I just completed a big art project, an installation for the PSVI Film Festival at the British Film Institute in London.
PSVI stands for ‘preventing sexual violence in conflict’ – that is, calling attention to the problem of rape used as a weapon of war.
When was asked to get involved I confess I didn’t know much about the subject, it’s pretty much pushed under the rug. I was aware of the historical court case where Bosnian women successfully prosecuted the Milosevic regime for war rape and in doing so, made war rape a war crime. I wasn’t aware though of the ongoing trauma and stigma attached to the survivors, the children born of war rape and – even more awful, if that is possible – the continuation of these atrocious attacks on civilian populations, especially in the violence of Syria and Congo in particular.
So, how to make art that addresses that? I quailed.
After considering a variety of approaches to fill the large foyer and mezzanine areas of the BFI, I wanted to take an unusual approach to installation. I decided to create washing lines across the ceiling to ‘air out the laundry’ – that is, to bring out that which is normally intimate and hidden.
I wanted to include graphic drawing, which is rarely seen on a large scale and even more rarely as [art of installation. Now, I don’t really draw and definitely don’t do it well so I called upon a young artist whose work I’ve been following for a few years, Anna Chiarini. The idea was to ask Anna to do one or two drawings on large sheets, and include the within a collection of clothes and texts.
However when I saw the way Anna grasped the idea and the drawings she rapidly produced – many inspired by a visit to the Calais border a few years ago – I rethought the installation and began to build it around the drawings, instead of simply including one or two.
Of course we were never going to depict the experience of rape. We were moved by the lives of survivors, the initiatives which are being rolled out by the UK Foreign Office and NGOs , and the work that survivors are doing for themselves. We wanted to also call attention to how much more work needs to be done, especially in bringing an end to stigma against survivors and their children. And finally to honour Dr Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, joint winners of the Nobel Peace Prize 2018 for their work on PSVI.
It was a difficult project, emotionally difficult and tactically not easy, but I feel that it was a privilege to have been able to contribute.