by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro
We create art for different reasons: emotional catharsis, individual reflection, outward expression of this realization, attempts to inspire social change, little steps for artistic revolution. Last year, we met Silenced Museum, an independent collective that believe in the power of art to weave a better world, free of sexual harassment and assault. Through events, exhibits, and various forms of art, Silenced Museum tries to bridge the gaps of understanding and banks on optimism in forwarding their advocacy.
The Brown Orient was lucky enough to have been feature in their Autumn 2018 Intervention Exhibition held at Ugly Duck, London, with works by our editor-in-chief Elizabeth Ruth Deyro, art director Kristienne Amante, and contributors Iris Orpi and Donnaleen Lao. We were also given an opportunity to speak with Maria McLintock, the founder of Silenced Museum on their humble beginnings and future projects that we can look forward to.
1. Tell us more about Silenced Museum. What was the story behind its inception? What drove you to found such a project?
Silenced Museum was founded in January 2018 after many long discussions between the three of us (Maria McLintock, Rosie Brears, and Molly Ackhurst) about collaborating and using our different areas of expertise to make something creative and impactful. From the various work we have done, we know that encouraging community accountability and every day acts of intervention is one of the most powerful ways of de-rooting everyday violences. It is something all three of us believe in, and as friends working in overlapping fields and activist spaces we have wanted to collaborate for a while to find a way of teaching this concept.
However, it wasn’t until this year that we felt we needed to do something. It suddenly felt particularly urgent for our project to exist. Everywhere we went we were hearing and seeing incredible women and non-binary people speaking out about the sexual abuse and harassment they experienced, and yet nothing really seemed to be changing. In fact – everything seemed to be getting worse. More people were speaking out, and yet it felt as though there was less “justice” occurring. There was no true cultural change because the truths of these incredible survivors was dripping through people's consciousness, and yet no one had the words to hold perpetrators of sexual harassment to account in public spaces. There was just so much silence. In fact, this was one of the reasons behind our choice of ‘Silenced Museum’ as a name – we wanted to find a way of encapsulating that there is silence around sexual violence – about it happening but also what to do if it happens or if you see it happening.
2. You have participated in Ugly Duck's Art and (H)acktivism season this month. As a firm believer of art as a means of protest, I appreciate how your exhibition aimed to marry multimedia arts with the advocacy to end sexual harassment. Still, how did you envision it to contribute to the larger conversation on sexual harassment?
Conversations around sexual harassment, and how to end it, have actually remained pretty stagnant over the last few years; in spite of the increase in survivors’ voices across media outlets. The focus is always on engaging young people, on sex and relationships education in schools, and on finding ways of “improving” our broken criminal justice system. There is so much rage and frustration surrounding these three spheres. Work with young people and altering education systems are long-term solutions, and in many ways don’t make women and non-binary people of our age feel any safer or happier. It’s because of this that the focus of our project is two fold – firstly it provides a space for women and non-binary people to imagine a utopian world where sexual harassment no longer exists, but it also strives to teach those with the most power/privilege how to intervene when they see this taking place. The hope is by doing the latter, we will help to contribute towards creating the former.
In many ways you could say the artistic elements of our projects are our Trojan horses. They lure in those who maybe have never thought of intervention, and perhaps maybe never would have, and in turn teach them of its importance. And in the process we work with truly incredible women and non-binary artists, actors, activists and participants who get to spend a small part of their day encased by utopianism. We speak of this as working with the allied and the disuntied alike.
The conversations we have had through our research workshops, at our day long festival (which took place in July 2018), and with funders have already been unique. Cis, hetero, white men have spoken with us about how to use their privilege and have left feeling empowered about how to be survivor centred in the ways the intervene. And more importantly in many respects queer women, and women of colour have talked to us about what it would be like to move about freely and how that would feel – and in the process they have felt this feeling for just a moment. To be able to facilitate these spaces is, and continues to be, truly revolutionary.
3. Sexual harassment and assault unfortunately remains rampant even in the digital sphere. Too many cases have surfaced in the independent arts community. In what ways do you think Silenced Museum could help in solving this dreadful prevalence of sexual harassment as a new member of the arts community?
Sexual violence exists on a continuum, and at this rotten core sits sexual harassment. The shame of experiencing, seeing or knowing sexual harassment on such a regular basis ripples through our world and all of our communities, normalising all forms of sexual violence.
As a collective we believe that current mainstream approaches to ending harassment do not work. The Criminal Justice System simply breeds more harm, and movements such as #MeToo – while providing platforms to break silence – have not challenged the pervasive sexist culture that emboldens abusers. Our work is grounded in the belief that the only way to de-root a culture endorsing sexual violence is through encouraging everyday actions of intervention, and we know that this is a radical view – one that is not widely discussed.
Ultimately the aim of our project is to push conversations about intervention further, so that all communities – arts communities included – can start to place the shame back onto perpetrators of abuse by knowing how to hold them to account. Mostly, we recognise the responsibility we have as a group trying to make real change in the sector. Given that, it’s about keeping our finger on the pulse with sector stories of harassment, and constantly learning about and responding to a culture that it omnipotent.
4. A significant part of Brown Asia may still be suffering from heavier exposure to sexual abuse, assault, and harassment due to the slow development of feminism among these countries. This goes without saying that they need greater assistance in informing and encouraging women and nonbinary folks to reject and overcome the patriarchy. As a collective based in London, how do you ensure inclusivity in the process of forwarding your cause?
All of our projects are intersectional to their core, and one of the ways that we have really tried to ensure the ways we teach bystander intervention remain inclusive is by running a number of research workshops with varied and diverse groups. We also work with groups such as Hollaback! – a global movement that works against sexual harassment - to ensure the work we do always centres the voices that are normally pushed to the periphery.
One of our primary motives is to centre and give a platform to artists whose work goes wrongfully overlooked due to the very limited nature of the voices included in the canon of visual arts, music and theatre. As such, we ensure we are platforming the work of diverse groups. So, with our Autumn 2018 Intervention Exhibition, we reached out to brilliant projects, like The Brown Orient and daikon* zine and asked them to share our open call for artists.
5. How can readers support and get involved in your future initiatives? What forthcoming campaigns should we look forward to?
We are gearing up for our big immersive theatre project in the summer of 2019. To keep up to date with what we’re doing people can follow us on facebook, twitter or instagram – and we even have a mailing list.
We’re also always looking for artists, performers and activists to collaborate with – so if this is you please get in touch with us via email@example.com.
This interview was edited for clarity and accuracy.