Catapult Exhibit to Highlight Clothing from Survivors of Sexual Violence

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An exhibition of clothing from survivors of sexual violence, including personal narratives from victims, will be on display April 5-25 at Southeast Missouri State University’s Catapult Creative House.

The exhibit, titled “What Were You Wearing? A Survivor Art Installation,” is sponsored by the Campus Violence Prevention Program and Redhawks Rising, a student organization for survivors.

An opening reception is scheduled for Friday, April 5, from 5-9 p.m. in the Catapult Creative House Gallery. Visitors are welcome to tour the entire Catapult facilities, including the Southeast Missouri State University Department of Art students’ studios. In addition, there will be live printing in the Letter Press area. A panel discussion also is planned for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, at Catapult Creative House.

Wearing clothing is a universal experience, a common part of our daily lives, but for survivors of sexual violence, the question, “What were you wearing?” is still pervasive.

One of the participants in the exhibit explains.

Two years ago, when I was laying in the hospital bed after my rape, the first thing the officer asked me was, ‘What were you wearing, and where are your clothes?’” she said. “They didn’t even ask his name until the end. That’s why I’m so passionate about this. My outfit doesn’t matter. My story matters.”

To ask the question costs the questioner nothing; however, the survivor pays dearly by means of the burden of self-blame and doubt. This exhibition bears witness to the harm caused by this query and places the burden of the answer back on the shoulders of the community.

“These powerful visuals confront the victim blaming myth that what a person was wearing before a sexual assault somehow contributed to the assault. The only person responsible for rape is the rapist,” explained Donna St. Sauver, coordinator of the Campus Violence Prevention Program at Southeast and a nationally certified counselor who specializes in interpersonal and sexual violence.

Viewers are asked to understand that the violence experienced by each survivor was not about the clothing they were wearing. Conversely, the act of shedding these clothes does little to bring peace or comfort. If only ending sexual violence was as simple as changing clothes, say those with Redhawks Rising and the Campus Violence Prevention Program. Instead it requires reflection on why society continues to ask survivors and others like them, “What Were You Wearing?”

“What Were You Wearing” was created by Jen Brockman and Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert after they heard the poem “What I was Wearing” by Mary Simmerling. Inspired by the poem, the two women wanted to represent Simmerling’s words in a visual art display.

Catapult Creative House is located at 612 Broadway in downtown Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.  All gallery exhibitions, events and talks are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Leah Powers at lepowers@semo.edu or (573) 290-5372.

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