As part of domestic violence awareness month, Crime and Sexual Assault Services and the Counseling Center are teaming up to present an art show entitled “A Dress Speaks: Confronting Intimate Violence.” Since 1998, when first viewed at the Gallery Lombardi in Austin, Texas, the show has been touring around the United States. Its next stop is here on Western’s campus in the Viking Union Gallery. The exhibit will open on Monday, October 10, with a reception from 5-7 p.m., and will remain on display through Thursday, November 3.

The exhibit showcases 8 dresses; each makes a visual statement in response to issues like rape, molestation, and other forms of intimate violence. The dresses were created as part of a healing process, to help survivors of domestic assault cope with and overcome trauma, under the artistic and therapeutic guidance of artist Benné Rockett. Working with nine women, Rockett guided the creation of the exhibit. She will be on campus on October 11 and 12, giving tours to classes and other groups of students and community members. She will also be at the opening reception for the show, available to talk about the show and answer questions.

Sarah Rankin, the director of CASAS, said that she had heard a lot of positive feedback about the exhibit from places where it had toured, and wanted to bring the exhibit to Western. Together with the Counseling Center, she received a grant through the Cold Beverage Contract to bring not just the exhibit, but the artist and therapist who instrumented the project, to campus for students to meet and talk to. Women’s Empowerment and Violence Education, one of the lifestyle advisor groups on campus, has also been involved in the promotion and setting up of the exhibit for the Western community. Rankin noted that there will be signs warning viewers of the serious and upsetting content of the art, and counselors will be available during the opening reception to talk with students if they need support in processing the issues addressed in the exhibit.

“I think it is important to raise all of our awareness about these issues in a creative way, to make statistics real to people. You may learn about sexual assault in a class, but I think going to something like this where it’s real and visual and creative is something you probably won’t forget. [This show] makes a social issue tangible,” said Rankin.

Rankin expressed concern that because the show is centered on the theme of a dress, a “feminine artifact,” it might not appeal to men. However, domestic violence, though more commonly perpetrated by men against women, happens to men as well. In fact, one out of every 7 boys is sexually abused, a staggering statistic that points to a problem rarely discussed. Often, these assaults go unreported.

In this culture, where the ability to “suck it up and deal with it” is a hallmark of traditional notions of masculinity, male victims of sexual assault are often silenced. Additionally, noted Rankin, “many men are future fathers or partners, possibly to a victim of sexual assault. The more knowledgeable they are about these issues the more helpful and sensitive they can be.”

Rankin also addressed that it is a slim percentage of men that actually commit these crimes. “As men engage more and more in these issues,” she said, “it is important for men to be seen as allies, to give voice to those who agree these sexual crimes are unacceptable.” It is important for men as well as women to have a forum to discuss these issues and learn about the problems they create in a person’s life, sense of self, and sexuality. So come one, come all! Don’t let your gender get in the way of experiencing an important and provocative show.

“A dress is symbolic,” said Rankin. The familiarity and immediacy of a piece of clothing gives voice and attention to the silence that often surrounds domestic assault. This show deals with important issues, and promises to provide insight and perspective into the lives of people who have experienced sexual crimes. If you can’t make it to the opening reception, be sure to drop in at some point in the next few weeks while the exhibit is on display.