Yes and More No : A Paris Expo of Art Facing Sexual Abuse

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Written By : Molly Apple ~

Revenge porn, victim blaming, consent, rape crisis – these buzz words are all too present in today’s age of the #MeToo movement, where sexual assault is becoming more and more a part of a conversation. The so-called “rape culture” is a phenomenon that not just today’s women face, but men as well. 

Artists have a unique dispassion when facing this global issue, because they get to use powerful sensory tactics to dramatically call attention to specific victim’s stories, as well as the collective problem as a whole.  Masters’ students from IESA- Ecole Marché de l’art et Métiers de la Culture (School of Culture and Art Market) exhibited a variety of artist’s work facing sexual abuse in their show “Yes and More No” in the Paris, France at the Espace Thorigny Gallery. 

I had the opportunity to interview one of the students, Olga Fromentin, who gave me a guided tour of the exhibit and shared the personal stories behind the artists’ work. Fromentin said “as our professor said to us as we decided to organize the exhibition, ‘it’s all about the human experience,’ every exhibition is about the human experience but especially this one about sexual violence and harassment because we’re only working with humans, women and men who have experienced sexual violence and were deeply affected. I can say personally that it also affected us as curators, we look differently now at this question of how to go about a delicate topic. We’ve been deeply touched by this, and it’s changed our lives.”

Each work inhabited a tangible power that voiced the artist’s process of healing. Of the nine artists, I will discuss a few who’s messages resonated personally. The promotional material displays Mexican artist Elina Chauvet’s arrangement at the entrance of the gallery of many shoes painted the color red to symbolize the blood of raped and murdered women who are still disappearing in Mexico. This dramatic piece coexists with more subtle displays of trauma as well. Peter Brandt, exhibits his never before seen pieces “I Did Not Invite You Into My Body” which exposes his traumatic experience as an innocent child. The delicate silk materiality of his work embodies his message of vulnerability a victim of sexual abuse faces. 

Have you ever had an ex threaten to release the intimate photos or messages you’ve shared? Brazilian artist Marilia Oliveira uses photography as her medium to react to her emotional sexual abuse she experienced. Her ex-partner blackmailed her, so she reclaimed her power by transforming the material into artwork and publishing it herself in the context of the gallery. Emotional sexual abuse can be just as harmful as physical and is especially visible in the age of social media. Her images are arranged with intention and purpose, exposing the visual narrative of her unhealthy relationship which I found very relatable to the viewer. 

Correct terminology in our modern world can be tricky, but with the initiative to seek more knowledge and releasing the fear of asking questions, one can see the entire picture rather than just a small piece of the whole. Emma Sulkowicz is a non-binary artist, what is this mean do you ask? This means they are “gender-queer” or doesn’t affiliate themselves with masculine or feminine gender identities, but rather neither in their gender expression. You may recognize Sulkowicz’s name, as they changed the way rape was regarded on many American college campus’s. After the disregard by the Columbia University campus where they reported rape, Sulkowicz started the Mattress Performance “Carry that Weight” in which they lugged the mattress the assault happened on around campus everyday to demonstrate the emotional weight they had to carry after no consequence was given to their rapist. Many students across the country who’d experienced similar situations or  simply wished to support’s Sulkowicz’s message replicated her performance on their own campuses. The exhibit displays a disturbing video reenactment of Sulkowicz’s rape – viewers 18 and older are given a content warning. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was about to watch, but the intent to shock the viewer is successful. 

The tactile nature of many of the works gave me the all-consuming feeling of being touched personally by each artist and their story. It gave me the courage to seek a method to express my own experiences, as I’m sure many viewers also felt. Altogether, the show symbolized the power of metabolizing one’s feelings and traumas through art. 

To see all the artist’s works check out the exhibition’s Instagram: @yesandmoreno

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