From Hollywood to Washington, D.C. and everywhere in between, the allegations continue to mount, and the perpetrators continue to step down. The United States is reverberating with the seemingly daily reveals of men using positions of power to manipulate, harass and abuse women. As the #metoo campaign has clearly illustrated, nearly every woman has her own story of being made to feel less of a person because of her gender.
In November, the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women collaborated with the London College of Fashion on the UN Orange Label Project, a call for students to create work that raises awareness about gender-based violence (GBV) against women. The “Fashion Says NO to Violence Against Women or Girls” competition tapped fashion students to produce images or films incorporating the project color orange. Here are three of those artists and the stories of their work:
Originally from Liverpool, Bagley’s interest in photography started early. At 13, she was already doing photo shoots in her basement, and she wrote her college application essay about the power of social media. For Orange Label Project, “producing a digital collage/photograph that I first exhibited on social media, was a no-brainer to me,” Bagley says.
This work is also deeply personal to the photographer. Just over a year ago she was kidnapped and gang-raped after a night out. The whole thing was filmed by her attackers and she woke up hours later in an abandoned car, only to find she had been drugged and robbed and had no idea where she was. At first, she didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to her, especially after initially receiving negative reactions from some of her closest friends; but, she came to realize that hiding the events meant protecting the men who had committed these crimes.
The project: “Before I was attacked, I was well aware of rape statistics, which made me cautious, but I didn’t actually think it would happen to me. I blame a lot of this on the lack of conversation about rape, and how women are taught ways to prevent getting raped, instead of telling people to not rape. It didn’t help how the only information I saw growing up was posters with models who had makeup black eyes.
After getting attacked, these posters bothered me more. They’re too easy to dissociate from, too fake. I wanted to show that real women are getting abused all around us. It definitely affects someone you know.
I produced four pairs of two portraits of gender-based violence survivors. One of the images in each pair is a black and white portrait of the survivor on an orange background. The other, is the portrait in a pink frame, on an orange background, with the words ‘I’M NOT A MODEL. I AM A REAL RAPE/SEXUAL ASSAULT/ETC] SURVIVOR.’ The portraits are all framed by the words ‘I’m a sister. I’m a daughter. I’m a niece. I’m a friend.’ These words were important to me, to remind people we are all connected to females in some way.”
Why she participated: “After being gang-raped, I tried to go back to school, but, in the end, it was too overwhelming, so I took half a year off. On my return, I saw that the UN wanted us to create work, and I thought this was my way to help others. I don’t want people to feel how I do. I don’t want the next generation to be still dealing with these tragic inequalities.”
The process: “This specific piece couldn’t be triggering, so I had to focus on how to be effective without awaking trauma for people. Although in a technical sense this was not a hard piece to make, this was actually the most challenging work I’ve ever put myself through. I was raped just over a year ago; I am still very much in the healing process.
Art can make people experience things/feelings in such a short period. Gender abuse is shocking, and I feel words can often be a buffer. Even I am guilty of saying, ‘I was attacked,’ when I wasn’t just ‘attacked’. I was kidnapped, robbed, burnt with cigarettes, beaten and gang-raped. Art is unique because it allows and encourages you to be blunt. This unapologetic honesty awakens people.”
A Chinese-Canadian artist studying at the London College of Fashion, Chan’s film for Orange Label Project won Most Compelling Project.
“Majoring in fashion styling and production, we mainly focus on telling a visual story through fashion. Personally, I always prioritize the story, which especially applied to my latest film project, To The Ones Who Tried to Change Us.”
The project: “To The Ones Who Tried to Change Us is a short fashion film inspired by a Rupi Kaur poem taken from her Milk and Honey collection that features poems about love, loss, trauma, femininity and healing. Violence in relationships is traumatic and can be in all sorts of forms, but rather than focusing on the darkness of it; the film focuses on the aftermath—the hope that we are strong enough to get better.”
Why she participated: “I have always been interested in this subject. As a woman and as someone who has experienced assault, it was only natural for me to be drawn to this project and bring awareness towards it.”
The process: “The process required much more care because it was such a sensitive topic. I wanted to bring awareness to violence against women, but also the possibility of hope and rehabilitation for victims.”
An artist, fashion designer and fashion illustrator, Taylor-Cummings says art is her “life source.” For Orange Label Project, she worked in watercolors, depicting survivors of gender-based violence
The project: “I chose to paint these beautiful Bangladeshi women. The imagery is sourced from a fashion show in London in October 2017 set up by ActionAid where designer Bibi Russell designed wonderful, colorful, traditional Bangladesh outfits to be worn by eight acid attack survivors.”
Why she participated: “Ai Weiwei once said, ‘Any artist who is not an activist is a dead artist.’ On a daily basis women face prejudice and abuse, I was catcalled several hours ago actually. I realize that this happens to various extents all over the world, which is why I chose to focus on Bangladesh, where there are some severe problems with domestic violence.”
The process: “It was very difficult for me, I undertook lots of research on the topic and came along some horrendous reports of abuse. Other work of mine has many different focuses, but none as heartbreaking as this.