Arts and Social Commentary: Rob Wetherington

1 04 2010

As an artist, I think it is important to use my voice and skill through the art making process to bring about a restorative change in society.  When I was approached by Adrienne Pipitone’s request to partner with her in the fundraising event scheduled for April 27th and Denim Day I felt it was important not to just give ideas and make some art, but to become fully invested in the process while seeking to serve God in excellence.  The idea of raising awareness about sexual assault is something mainly focused on by women, but both genders are affected not only by the objectification of being victimized, but also each gender, to varying degrees at least, fills the role of aggressor.

It cannot be denied that men perpetrate a vast majority of reported and unreported cases of sexual assault.  Due to the amount of people affected by sexual assault and the funds dedicated to address the results and the prevention the United States Government has deemed this a public health epidemic (Centers for Disease Control). As a man, I feel it is my duty to not only call out these abuses, but to use my skills as an artist to act. Speaking or sharing statistics are one thing, but dedicating time, energy, and effort to raise awareness effectively and in excellence is imperative.  For too long, men have relied on women to speak and act on behalf of the victims of this kind of assault.  My friend, Ellen, works for an abuse hotline in Pennsylvania.  She shared with me an incident where a man called and asked what could be done for him because he was in a sexually and domestically abusive situation. His problem was that all the outreach centers focused on providing services for women and children, but he could not find anything for men.  A majority of social workers are women as are a majority of artists working with the concept of empowering victims.  When Adrienne asked if I would be a part of this project I knew it was a chance for me to stop being silent and to start speaking out; to stop sitting off to the side and to get involved.  I found it to be my place and purpose in the world to take on this project not only as an artist, but also as a man.

In the course of the art making process with Adrienne Pipitone, we took our own steps toward emulating and paralleling the ways in which the Centers for Disease Control addresses public health issues.  First, we defined the problem.  This is accomplished through the piece entitled Stand.  It consists of 11 pairs of jeans strung up on 1”x2” boards with statistics places at various heights and depths in front of the jeans.  The statistics, found on the CDC website, state that 1 in 5 college age women will be sexually assaulted, every 3 minutes someone in the world is raped, and that 60% of sexual assaults go unreported.

Secondly, while emulating the CDC’s approach, we identified risk and protective factors.  This is addressed in the piece Speak.  By starting a dialogue and calling these violent acts out we hope for a future where no one is a victim. Instead of shunning victims or ignoring the problem we hope to not only identify the risks, but to also inspire people to be proactive protecting themselves and others from assault.

The third step is to develop and test prevention strategies.  The piece Empower expresses a desire for community and connection in response and prevention to sexual assault.  Through giving victims a voice and by raising awareness of just how many people globally are directly affected by the acts of violence we hope to change and instill a new way of thinking within the viewer.

Finally, the CDC’s approach is to ensure widespread adoption.  Following their example, Adrienne and I embraced the opportunity and challenges of exhibiting work in the Promenade.  While this has been a fairly easy partnership with the shopping center and they have been enthusiastic supporters of the event we were faced with the implications of installing work in a shopping center as opposed to a gallery.  This meant we would reach a larger audience of viewers, but not all viewers would be as supportive or even interested as those intentionally visiting a gallery for an art exhibition.  In the creative process we were constantly reminding ourselves and each other who the intended audience was and if our art was meeting them.  When certain issues were raised with the management of the Promenade we conceded because it was felt that being flexible with our partners was the best way to ensure the most amount of viewers would experience the art and, hopefully, talk about what was happening while adopting a  new way of thinking.

The installation of this exhibition is a form of restorative social commentary and, to some degree, is prophetic in nature.  It is restorative because Adrienne and I are not only drawing attention to the current issue of sexual assault nationally and globally, but also offering ways for others to be involved and envision a brighter future, or to partner in being proactive.  The fact that this is being done in conjunction with the Center for Family Services and to support their abuse hotline solidifies the restorative angle of this social commentary. At the same time, the act of calling out to people in a consumer environment teeters on the boundaries of prophetic because we are sharing a message of hope, but doing so while partnering with a commercial entity (having been invited to exhibit work on their private property), which voids the possibility of reactive protest artwork.  While we have made every effort to maintain a welcoming and positive exhibition the issue of sexual violence affects a large percentage of the population and it can safely be assumed there will be mixed emotions concerning the presentation of the work and facts supporting the need to raise awareness.

The outrageous statistics concerning sexual assault means that even if someone has not been directly victimized they at least know someone who has.  This issue reaches across boundaries of race, class, gender, and ethnicity.  Our main goals in the production of these pieces is to empower viewers to start talking about the issues, to inspire viewers to envision a brighter future, and to encourage possible victims of assault to take action and begin the journey of overcoming. Presenting art in this venue raises concerns about the impact the pieces will have on viewers.  Hopefully, the pieces will reach to the core of one’s worldview and strike a cord with the evaluative notion of justice and by passing the affective dimension of liking or disliking the pieces (Rokeach, 1973). Conversely, the intended audience may be drawn into the meatier parts of the works by their affective appeal and, thusly, receive a new insight at the evaluative dimension.

By reaching to the core of the viewer’s worldview it is hoped that instead of simply reflecting on the subject of sexual assault they will be inspired to be proactive in addressing the issue.  Ultimately, it is hoped the viewer would change his or her evaluative values and the notion of “justice” would include the objectification of others within a sexual connotation, or, more specially, a norming of the belief that by talking about sexual assault we can prevent more cases from occurring than by ignoring the issue or pretending it does not exist.


REFERENCES

Centers For Disease Control (2010). Retreived February 27, 2010, from www.cdc.gov

Center For Family Services. (n.d.), Retrieved February 27, 2010, from www.centerffs.org

M. Rokeach, (1973). The Nature of Human Values.

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