Crowd at the opening of the "House of the Unsilenced" exhibition. (Photo courtesy of House of the Unsilenced)

House of the Unsilenced: Sexual Assault Victims Speak Out


AUGUST 27, 2018

Jakarta. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, an art exhibition in Jakarta titled "House of the Unsilenced" – opening at Cemara 6 Galeri-Museum in Menteng, Central Jakarta, on Aug. 15 – brings together artists, writers and sexual assault survivors to create works about the survivors' harrowing experiences and gives them a rare chance to speak up.

Artists participating in the exhibition include painter and feminist academic Dewi Candraningrum, filmmaker Dyanti Adeline, performance artist and Indonesian Art Award finalist Ratu Saraswati, award-winning artist and writer Molly Crabapple – whose works are in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Indonesian rapper Yacko, dancer Ningrum Syaukat and artist Salima Hakim.

Partnering with non-governmental organizations Yayasan Pulih, Arus Pelangi, Lentera Sintas Indonesia, Hollaback and YLBH Apik-Jakarta, the exhibition also held a series of workshops for the sexual assault survivors from July 21 to Aug. 5.

The workshops included classes on fiction writing, journaling, bookbinding, decoupage, 3D collage, self-care body movements and hip-hop songwriting.

Discussions, film screenings and theater performances make up the rest of the event.

The exhibition's director, novelist Eliza Vitri Handayani, said the exhibition aims to improve public awareness about the nature and effects of sexual violence – conveyed through the survivors' own expressions and artistic creations.

"Many [sexual assault] survivors still find it difficult to break their silence. People often stigmatize and punish victims of sexual violence and find excuses for the perpetrators' actions," Eliza said.

She said the exhibition offers a safe space for the survivors to tell their stories openly and without judgment. They are allowed to explore different ways to express themselves.

"Some of the artists participating in this exhibition have also experienced sexual assault themselves. We hope art can help them express feelings that can be difficult to be put into words," Eliza said.

Eliza said for this reason the location of the pre-exhibition workshops was kept secret, so the artists and the survivors felt free and safe to express themselves fully.

Therapeutic Art

Iin's "The Tree of Life." (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

Iin, who took part in the workshops, said she started to paint and write every day after being sexually assaulted to express her feelings and fears.

One of her paintings at the exhibition, titled "The Tree of Life," was a response to a dark time in her life and also a reminder to herself that forgiving the past is crucial to her self-healing.

"The tree symbolizes a fresh start in life. Art has become a therapy for me, to vent my anxiety," Iin said.

Another highlight of the exhibition is Farul Paliang's "Jangan Sebut Saja Namaku Dengan Bunga" ("Don’t Just Call Me Flower") – a critique to the way Indonesian media often use "Bunga" ("Flower") as a pseudonym for sexual assault victims.

Farul Paliang's “Jangan Sebut Saja Namaku Dengan Bunga” ("Don’t Just Call Me Flower”). (JG Photo/Diella Yasmine)

"Calling sexual victims a "flower" imparts a negative image of a seductress to them," Farul said.

Farul is a pharmacist who also knits and makes craftwork. In this painting, he combines papers with his own intricate embroideries.

House of the Unsilenced runs from Aug. 15 to Sept. 2.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Eliza's InterSastra, an independent space for literary and artistic exploration and exchange, in collaboration with the Royal Norwegian Embassy.