Artist Susan Singer paints women. As women. As themselves. Hurt, human, scarred, broken, triumphant, Beyond Barbie. As part of my own healing, I commissioned Susan last summer to paint my portrait, nude, showing the residual scars from the shooting and the surgery that saved my life. I thought in modeling, and having the portrait, I would learn to accept my changed body and what the scars represented.
Out of hundreds of photos, I chose a picture in front of the window in my bedroom, with the sun streaming in onto the ‘killing chair’, wearing my husband’s Brooks Brother’s white shirt, scars in plain view, a look of determination, will, defiance in my eyes.
When the work was complete, her Beyond Barbie show was opening at the Crossroads Art Center and Susan asked if she could include my portrait. The stories behind the portraits in the show were so powerful an eight week performance series was born. I saw my portrait as an opportunity to further the understanding of what domestic violence looks like and wrote this to accompany my portrait. I named it the Portrait of Domestic Violence:
I am in my husband’s shirt, Brooks Brothers cotton oxford. He always looked so nice in it with a coat and tie, always the gentleman in it who made me feel beautiful and loved and wanted.
Even then there were scars. Out of view. Hidden. Underneath.
When he took off the shirt, he was someone else.
He was not careful enough. He exposed me, the face of domestic violence. My scars, now visible to the world, post-gunshot wounds delivered by the man who wore the Brooks Brothers cotton oxford shirt.
I wear the scars for you to see in memory of all the women who die, whose children die, at the hands of their partners. Women who were once made to feel beautiful, and loved. This portrait symbolizes their stories, untold, and the life that could have been theirs.
A reprise of highlights of the show took place in April to an audience of more than 100. Included in that audience was a crew to film the performance as part of a documentary on Susan’s work. Susan asked if I would again read excerpts from my blog. It was an amazing and powerful evening which spoke to the strength, tenacity and courage of women as they move through their lives.
I many times struggle with what to write in this blog, in my book. How much to reveal. Whether it is a subject that has been served, over discussed, over emphasized. I question my why. I come back to the Beyond Barbie performance and am affirmed that yes, every person, every woman, has her own story. It is when we hear another’s we so many times find our own, and in it, our power to change it.
This must be my why.
I am a 71 year old survivor of many acts of violence committed against me. I’ve been on my own since I was fourteen and married six times with several longish relationships. Each marriage was terminated by me when the partner looked me in the eye and communicated that they would knowingly hurt me. At this time in my history the prevailing ‘wisdom’ was that you ‘made your bed, now you had to lie in it’. Leaving was not presented as a viable option and support for flight was slim to none. I was swimming upstream, nevertheless, I refused to take the abuse and left, often with no idea where I was going to end up. I would do the same thing now. I never killed one of them, though I can’t say the thought never crossed my mind. I could not leave my kids in that manner. I just instinctively knew that no matter what anyone thought, I could not and would not live like that.
During my life I have taken women into my home and protected them from abusive men. Some of them could find no one to help because the abuser threatened anyone who tried. I had some prime threats for abusers that always made them think about challenging me and they backed off. Sadly, some of the women went back to their tormentors with bad results.
My message to any vulnerable person, man, woman or child is to NEVER permit anyone to abuse you. There is always a first time and it is critical the behavior never be repeated. Repitition is THE reason to distance yourself safely from the one who would harm you. Permanently.