According to RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual abuse organization, someone in America is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds. Less than 20% of rapes are committed by strangers to victims; many are acquaintances and even current or former partners. You can find more information and learn more on their website.
The National Sexual Assualt Hotline is free, confidential, and 24/7. If you need support, call 1-800-656-4673.
In early 2020, I was selected to join a group of artists creating works of art reflecting on their own experiences with sexual assault and street harassment to be installed along the South Division corridor in Grand Rapids throughout the month of April: Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This project was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19, but I took this disappointment as an opportunity to re-imagine this work while quarantined.
As site-specific installation
Installed in a vacant retail space on South Division, 30-40 convex safety mirrors reflect viewers’ surroundings from a multitude of different perspectives. These convex mirrors usually help drivers safely navigate sharp corners in parking garages or workers in warehouses, but what happens when we move them into a different location, a different context?
As a queer femme, I have learned that walking alone anywhere can be unnerving. Constantly looking over my shoulders, my heartbeat quickens with any unexpected sound or approaching stranger. This is a shared experience for so many, especially those who have experienced sexual assault. We must constantly be on high alert to maintain a sense of control over our surroundings. This installation aimed to recreate this all-too-familiar experience. Looking into the mirror installation can be almost overwhelming as you view your position in space from so many different angles and reflections. Any movement made is amplified almost infinitely, mimicking this anxiety-driven experience.
Reconceptualized during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The South Division Corridor in the Heartside District of Downtown Grand Rapids was a fitting location for the original installation. I lived and worked in the area for 4 years, and though I loved my time there, I faced daily harassment and anxiety just walking around my own neighborhood. The cancellation of this project, however, prompted me to think about how the original concept could be applied to other locations and situations.
Throughout the first year of quarantine, I documented many of the spaces I occupied through the same lens as the original Safe Spaces project. More personal spaces. Familiar spaces. Spaces where, although I was comfortable, I questioned my own sense of safety and security for a multitude of reasons.
The images above are only a small selection of pieces created during this time. I hope to one day expand and share the rest of this series.
Questions I ask myself in relation to this work:
What is a safe space? What is the relationship between safety and sense of place?
What makes us feel comfortable in one place and uncomfortable in another?
What does safety feel and look like? What contributes to our sense of safety?
Is there a difference between actual and perceived safety? Why?