The Shadow Pandemic
A report by UN Women states that since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, have intensified. This is the Shadow Pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis (U.N. Women 2021).
High-profile domestic violence cases such as that of Gabby Petito seem to confirm the UN’s findings (CNN 2021). It is ironic that all this has played out in October, the National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (NCADV 2021).
Missing White Woman Syndrome
In addition, we learn that there are many more women of color that have gone similarly missing but the media does not give them any airtime (Zachary 2021).
Installation view of the sculptural poem, Endlessly: The Shadow Pandemic
Gabby Petito's memorial removed
As the makeshift, spontaneous memorial for Gabby Petito was removed on 10/28/2021, I found myself thinking how difficult it would be to meaningfully memorialize her, and other victims of domestic violence. And now that it will not make news anymore, it will be easy for people to soon forget.
Close-up of the sculptural poem showing beLONGING FOREVERmore
It is even more difficult to memorialize Black, Latina, Asian, and other domestic violence victims of color since they are already absent from the public consciousness.
The rising cases of violence against women during the Covid pandemic, is the counter-memory of domestic violence, that it is a “Shadow Pandemic” – one that is not very visible. Michel Foucault coined the term, “Counter-Memory” to describe a modality of history that opposes history as knowledge or history as truth. For Foucault, counter-memory was an act of resistance in which one critically examines the history and excavates the narratives that have been subjugated. (Foucault 1977)
Anti-Memorial to Domestic Violence
When a memory is unbearable, how do you memorialize it? Traditional rituals and forms of memorialization don't seem to do justice to Domestic Violence, given how widespread it is and how damaging it can be to victims. What is needed is an anti-memorial that will not let people forget.
James E Young describes an anti-memorial as, “Anti-memorials aim not to console but to provoke, not to remain fixed but to change, not to be everlasting but to disappear, not to be ignored by passers-by but to demand interaction, not to remain pristine but to invite their own violation and not to accept graciously the burden of memory but to drop it at the public’s feet.”(Young Fall 1997).
"Endlessly" is a sculptural poem that speaks to the complex experience of domestic violence in the registers of language, visibility, and privacy. Installed as a public mural, this poem is a permanent and meaningful way to not forget about domestic violence victims and to bring awareness about the Shadow Pandemic.
Close-up of the sculptural poem showing ENDlessly
Victims of domestic violence don't talk about what they are going through, maintaining the façade of a happy relationship. Violence is perpetrated in the guise of love by the partner who claims to be hurt by the victim's actions, with the victims blaming themselves for the violence meted out to them. The perpetrator uses language to control the victim by planting self-doubt and self-blame while dangling love as the reward if the victim would just be what the perpetrator needs them to be.
Composed as a poem, the words "belonging," "forevermore," "endlessly," and "unstill" reflect my personal experience of domestic violence, with the hope that these words will have universal resonance. This poem is composed of ambiguous words and fragments of phrases, which can be interpreted in different ways based on the subjectivity of the viewer. This work is an exercise in paring down to the essentials and an attempt at finding the 'more in less.’
Close-up of the sculptural poem showing unSTILL
The work problematizes language itself and its limitations by breaking and fracturing the words in this way –
beLONGING FOREVERmore ENDlessly unSTILL
Incomplete by themselves, the words can only exist in the viewer's imagination as a phrase they complete themselves, such as "endlessly seeking," or as "endless cycles of violence," and so on.
Close-up of the sculptural poem showing beLONGING
The Endlessly sculptural poem is installed as wood letters painted white, on a white wall, with the edges of the wood letters blended into the wall, continuous with the "skin" of the wall. If one is walking by the wall, one may not even notice them, which is my intent.
Domestic violence occurs behind closed doors in private and is not visible. And, domestic violence victims feel compelled to hide what they are going through emotionally, and physically by using makeup to hide their bruises. Installing the sculptural poem in this manner where it is visible but also invisible, is a visually poetic way of expressing the visibility conundrum unique to domestic violence.
Close-up of the sculptural poem showing FOREVERmore
If These Walls Could Talk
Often, walls are the silent witnesses of domestic violence because it usually occurs in the privacy of a home. The letters of this work are about 12" high each and installed at this scale, the poem becomes a mural. I will be installing this work as a public art mural on an outside wall so that it can function as a public anti-memorial to all domestic violence victims.
Installing the poem as public art, at a large scale, flips the private or hidden nature of domestic violence, and turns it into a public conversation.
Installation view of the sculptural poem showing beLONGING ENDlessly FOREVERmore unSTILL
The Counter-Memory Project is a socio-political art project that seeks to memorialize unbearable and difficult memories through art practices that combine research, activism, and aesthetics, for the larger social good. Founded in 2001 by Pritika Chowdhry, the Counter-Memory Project also includes several other projects - Ungrievable Lives: The Ghosts of 9/11, Empty Time, Naturalized, Tamas (Darkness): An Archive of 1919, and The Masters' Tongues: Dialectic of Language.
2021. CNN. October 21.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, by Donald F. Bouchard, 160.
Cornell University Press.
2021. NCADV. October. https://ncadv.org/2021DVAM.
2021. U.N. Women. October. Accessed October 31, 2021.
Young, James E. Fall 1997. "Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, Counter-Memory, and the End of the Monument."
The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4 855.
Zachary, Julia S. Zordan. 2021. Black women missing from media. October 21. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/10/14/media-loves-missing-white-women-black-women-are-already-missing-public-view/.