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Survivors of sexual assault express experiences through art

On Tuesday night, art pieces created by survivors of sexual assault filled the lower level of the Horn Gallery. Kate Stephanus, Barnard College ’17, who is spending the semester at Kenyon to complete her degree in American studies, put together the art collection as part of her senior presentation, “Taking the Mic: Sexual Assault and Expression as Activism.”

“This is an opportunity to form community, speak out and get creative with a support system,” Stephanus said.

With this project, Stephanus aimed to create a setting in which survivors of sexual assault could express their feelings using different media. Her inspiration came from a conversation during an anthropology class about the ways emotions could translate into a medium, such as clay, that could be physically manipulated to serve as a therapeutic release. For Stephanus, the American studies major at Kenyon allowed her the freedom to tackle the subject of an artistic release for the emotions felt by survivors of sexual assault.

Stephanus held four art-making sessions during which she provided materials and prompts. Counselors from the counseling center and Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) were available to provide support to survivors.

“This event is for anybody and everybody, and you do not need to consider yourself a visual artist to participate,” Stephanus said during one of these “visual speakout,” or art-making, sessions. “This is about working together and exploring creatively and emotionally, not about making the next masterpiece of the 21st century — although if that ends up happening, it would be very impressive and welcomed.”

During the sessions, confidentiality was a priority. The last session included a discussion reflecting on the art-making process. There was not a large number of attendees at any of the sessions; many survivors felt more comfortable participating by anonymously submitting pieces to SMAs, who are a confidential resource. Materials at the sessions included clay, mod-podge for collage, paint and markers and crayons for drawing, but individual submissions ranged from a dance to a stop-motion film.

As a participant in the visual speakout sessions, this reporter found that Stephanus created a welcoming and therapeutic environment as well as a unique emotional outlet. Her senior presentation, attended both by survivors and those who have not experienced sexual assault, provided a public forum for survivors to represent their personal experiences through anonymous art.