Sexual Assault Survivors Show Healing Through Art Exhibit

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This piece, titled "Hope and Healing," uses purple and teal because they are the colors that represent domestic abuse and sexual violence. "My hope is that other women still in abusive relationships will "DARE TO BE FREE," the artist wrote on the place card next to it.
This piece, titled “Hope and Healing,” uses purple and teal because they are the colors that represent domestic abuse and sexual violence. “My hope is that other women still in abusive relationships will “DARE TO BE FREE,” the artist wrote on the place card next to it. (Alexandra Fernandez/WUFT News)

A painting helped Keely Lubin remember.

At the time, the then-19-year-old didn’t remember 12 years of sexual abuse, from ages 5 to 17.  She didn’t quite understand the memories that surfaced two years later after an argument with her now-fiancé.

But then the local artist looked at a high school painting, a woman with a flat expression and a terrified ghost coming out of her mouth, and said she realized her art was how she visualized moments of disassociation, instances where she repressed memories and felt as if she were outside her body.

“To realize you’ve repressed about 12 years of trauma in your life is a really, really jarring experience,” Lubin said. “I had a lot of trouble trusting myself and my own perception of reality. If I could block that out, what else could I block out?”

Now 22, she presented a new take on her ghost painting as one of 12 art pieces at the fifth annual Survivors of Violence Art Exhibit hosted by Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center.

After being presented at the Civic Media Center and Wild Iris Books from March 25 to March 30, the exhibit will move to the Harn Museum of Art for the first time from Tuesday to April 14.

Ashley Flattery, a victim advocate counselor at Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center, said the exhibit is organized as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Flattery said the exhibit was first created to give survivors a space to express themselves in whatever way they felt comfortable.

She said in previous years she didn’t know the exhibit could be shown at the Harn, but was made aware of the possibility this year.

Flattery said the exhibit is also put on to remind the community that interpersonal violence happens to people living and working in Gainesville.

“It’s something we hope brings healing to the community as a whole,” she said.

Lubin shared her story through a series of paintings called “My Ghost Friend.” The series depicts a woman going through her day-to-day activities with a friendly-looking ghost by her side.

“Five years post-abuse, I am seeking to welcome the scared ghosties back into my body, offering my spirit a gentler, safer, and more playful home,” Lubin wrote in the place card next to the paintings. “As such, ‘My Ghost Friend’ displays the ghosties, no longer afraid, eager and curious about interfacing with the physical world and their new body.”

Lubin said she’s been trying to reconnect with her body in the past year.

“I wanted to really represent these small steps into regaining some sense of normalcy and safety and security,” she said.

At the exhibit’s opening reception on March 25, performance artists and authors also shared their stories of survival through performances and readings.

Local performance artist Angela Knox performed a piece titled “The Caged Bird” in which she is a bird in a cage with clipped wings finding a way to escape.

Knox, 29, said she has always been fascinated by bird imagery and wanted to use it as a metaphor for survivors of interpersonal violence.

“Our wings have been cut off,” she said. “We have a feeling of we can’t go anywhere, can’t say anything, can’t do anything.”

Knox said she thought her performance at the exhibit was her best yet because she was performing in a welcoming environment for people who could relate to the piece.

“It was a really powerful experience, to be able to help people in that way,” she said.

Knox said she’s used art as a healing tool throughout her life. She used to write poetry before she entered an abusive relationship. Now she prefers using her body as art, she said.

“Whenever you perform for people, there’s that connection there,” she said. “I think the performing arts has that special kind of power.”

Tamara Lunardo, a local author and editor, read from her book “What a Woman is Worth” at the reception.

The book, a collection of stories from 30 women, seeks to answer the question “How do you overcome the negative perception you have of yourself as a result of traumatic experiences?” Lundardo said.

At the exhibit, she read about her own experience with interpersonal violence.

She recalled dating a boy at 15 who emotionally abused her and escalated his violence until it led to rape.

“It was really cool to be in a space where I knew everybody there would be able to relate in some way,” she said. “I wasn’t the oddball. I wasn’t damaged goods. I was one of the group.”

Using art as a healing tool is the central idea of Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center’s new art and mindfulness support group.

Lucas Demonte, a victim advocate counselor and co-facilitator of the group, said they’ve been meeting since late February, and he’s thrilled with the response.

The group of about six people combines mindfulness and meditation with art every other Monday, Demonte said.

“Art is a way for us to express how we’re feeling when words fail us,” he said. “It has a way of opening up the mind and making you much more present than if you were just talking to somebody.”

When words failed Lubin and Knox, they turned to art.

With no physical evidence of the abuse she repressed, Lubin said her ghost paintings were something she could look at and touch and realize that her subconscious was trying to communicate with her.

“I think that’s why art is so important,” she said. “It’s like a direct channel to the subconscious mind.”

Knox said that she’s still searching for a good therapist, but art has always been a source of healing.

She doesn’t know how to explain exactly how art has helped her, Knox said.

“I know that it has, because it has,” she said.

About Alexandra Fernandez

Alexandra is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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