Spoken art exhibit raises awareness for survivors of sexual aggression

Sara Shawano’s perspective changed after she looked into the the photographed eyes of a sexually abused woman.

“It was a very big eye-opener — the struggles that some people have to go through,” the Petoskey senior said. “At first I wasn’t expecting ... some of the content that was in (the painting).”

In Bovee University Center room 125, art and abusesurvival met to create the Spoken Word Exhibit where nine painted photographs and testimonies of sexual aggression survivors were displayed. The exhibit features the painted picture with an MP3 player and headphones telling the survivor’s story.

Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates hosted the exhibit, which will run until the end of the April, as part of Sexual Aggression Awareness Month.

Sexual Aggression Services and SAPA Director Stephen Thompson said the exhibit stemmed from one originally made out of plaster molds of the faces of people with AIDS.

“We saw that and (the artist) expanded it a little bit to sexual aggression,” Thompson said.

Alumnus Kyle Butler created the designs — a project that has taken four years and is nearly complete.

Thompson wanted viewers to receive the message directly from the survivor.

“They can hear the voice of the survivor and get a little more of an understanding of who that person was at the time and who they are now,” Thompson said. “Hearing the voice is something that is really important for people.”

The exhibit has been on the road at Wayne State University and in Florida on display at a national conference.

SAPA member and Davison graduate student Nick Varner said the exhibit shows that anyone can be the survivor of sexual aggression.

“Everyone has their own stories and their own experience, and Spoken shows survivors that they are not alone,” Varner said.

Even though all the stories may be different, the common thread is they survived and are able to still be successful, he said.

“Spoken shows that sexual violence doesn’t always end your life, it is just part of your life,” Varner said.

When looking at all of the exhibits and hearing their stories, Shawano said the stories were all big eye-openers for her.

“There is always a story behind everybody,” she said. “I think a lot of people need to understand that sometimes one person can’t deal with (abuse) — they need help.”