DAY TWELVE: Violence Unseen Reimagined – arts activism in the time of COVID-19

When the pandemic curtailed the travelling exhibition Violence Unseen, the organisers had to reassess. And they re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ the images onto cityscapes.

Jo Zawadzka

Violence Unseen Re-Imagined is an online photography exhibition that aims to put unacknowledged and often unseen forms of violence against women on the map.  

The images used in this exhibition were originally created by the photographer Alicia Bruce, then re-imagined and ‘digitally painted’ onto the city landscapes by the visual artist Szymon Felkel.  

Before the pandemic curtailed the Violence Unseen exhibition’s travels, it was displayed in around 40 locations across Scotland, and seen by around 2000 people.  

However, with COVID-19 measures forcing a mass shift to online campaigning in recent months, our travelling Violence Unseen exhibition has taken on new significance and moved online. The Re-imagined exhibition features the Violence Unseen images in public spaces to convey the message that, whilst often hidden, violence against women hasn’t disappeared. In fact, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic.  

The forms of violence against women featured in the exhibition are not new, but some groups of women are more vulnerable to certain types of violence. This is especially true for women who face other forms of discrimination, such as women with learning disabilities, women who sell sex, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans women, and minority ethnic women. Moreover, we know that lockdown has acted as an enabler for perpetrators and made violence against women even less visible to the public eye, making getting this campaign seen by the public, even more important.  

Alongside the re-imagined images, we will be sharing links to research, articles and projects to help to broaden understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on violence against women. I would therefore like to spotlight three of our images here, as examples of our informative campaign. 

Picture above: Diane by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

Our first image features Diane Abbott with the backdrop of the houses of Parliament. This image is a significant representation of Violence Against Women in Politics and Elections (VAWIE). VAWIE was extremely prevalent during the run up to the 2017 snap election in which 45.14% of all abusive tweets were directed at Abbott, largely focussed on her gender and her race, largely in the form of threats of sexual violence.

Understanding intersectional discrimination is essential to understanding Violence Against Women and Girls, the different ways violence is enacted, and the varied impacts it can have on people who are multiply marginalised. 

Picture above: Margaret by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

The second image I want to focus on is of Margaret, very powerfully superimposed onto a Princes Street bus stop. This image discusses disabled women and carer abuse. Disabled women are twice as likely to experience men’s violence as non-disabled women, and 73% of disabled women have experienced domestic abuse. This image is captioned “How are you supposed to get anyone to believe you if everyone thinks he is a ‘Saint’ because of how he helps you?”, emphasising how much abuse towards disabled women goes unseen, diminished, and un-prosecuted.  

Picture above: Mridul by Alicia Bruce/Szymon Felkel. Reproduced by permission of Zero Tolerance

Mridul Wadhwa’s image has been ‘digitally painted’ onto the side of the Scottish Parliament building, thus placing a trans, migrant woman who describes how she is seen by the world as “outsider everywhere”, straight into the political sphere. 83% of trans women have experienced a hate crime, whilst migrant women’s experience of ‘No Recourse to Public Funds’ can leave them more vulnerable to violence. This demonstrates another way multiple marginalisation can lead to increased exposure to violence. 

Visit virtual exhibition here

An accessible version can be found here

See also Day 10 Blog by Alicia Bruce

Please note that some of the content in this exhibition deals with sexual violence, abuse and exploitation which some people might find upsetting. Some of the women featured in the pictures are models. 

List of helplines for anyone who lives in Scotland is available here:

Jo Zawadzka is Campaigns and Engagement Office for Zero Tolerance, the Scottish charity that works to end men’s violence against women by promoting gender equality and challenging attitudes which normalise violence and abuse. Their work began in 1992 with a series of mass media campaigns designed to raise awareness and challenge attitudes about violence against women. Today their work continues to challenge the social attitudes and values which permit violence to occur. They take a practical, evidence-based approach targeting primary prevention of violence and promoting change. 

Throughout the 16 Days of Activism, Zero Tolerance will be sharing our seven images across their social media platforms. They will also be available for campaigning purposes – if you are interested in accessing their Violence Unseen Re-imagined resources, please contact Jo at jo.zawadzka@zerotolerance.org.uk.  

You can find Zero Tolerance Scotland on Twitter @ZTScotland, and on Facebook and Instagram @ZeroToleranceScotland. Their website is www.zerotolerance.org.uk

The photographer, Alicia Bruce can be found on twitter @picturemaking, instagram @aliciabrucephoto and her website at www.aliciabruce.co.uk. Szymon Felkel, the arts activist, can be found on instagram @szymon_felkel and at their website at www.saymoonstudio.com.

Author: uoegendered

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