As part of our efforts to raise awareness about the impact of violence against women, we feature survivor stories on our blog. This post is from Shana R. Goetsch. Shana is a professional artist and Arts Facilitator currently working at a domestic violence shelter.
I have been thinking for the past few days on what this blog post would address, violence, love, loss, art…I had many issues that I wanted to include, but none seemed so important as Love. I had also been thinking about a recent painting I created which reinforced my belief that Love is the ultimate power. According to Hermann Hesse, “Love is stronger than violence”. When I ﬁrst read this quote, it made me really think…hard. Was this the case? Is Love really stronger than Violence? With a nudge from The Pixel Project’s Paint it Purple global web campaign, I was well on the road to an answer, and the answer came via the artmaking process.
I started my painting with an image from my life experience. I chose a photo of my brother when he was caught by the AP photographer during the arraignment for his trial. My brother murdered my mother in 1989, when he was nineteen and I was fourteen. He was found guilty of ﬁrst degree intentional homicide and reckless endangerment by the state of Wisconsin.
I don’t live there anymore.
I won’t go back to Wisconsin, and I won’t go back to a lot of things I was before: scared, helpless, ashamed, angry…well, maybe I’ll hang onto the anger. The point is that I got a taste of a freedom in my move across the country. It was a very symbolic move from Wisconsin. I traded helplessness and fear, for freedom, movement, and most importantly, power.
With the freedom gained through actively making art, came a strong sense of my own power. This is a power that is directly related to my own voice and my own experiences. What I create now is my personal war against violence. The pieces are raw and messy and bloody, just like Violence and Love always have been. Just like witnessing my mother’s murder was for me. This is my Love, standing against Violence, and the weapon with which I choose to combat it is a paint brush.
I had been using art as a therapeutic tool since I started seriously painting. In high school I remember that I painted a life-sized, dark and entombed body. When I was nineteen, I painted a romanticized version of my mother’s death. It didn’t really portray the mess or the imagery or the horror appropriately, but it was a huge stride in a personal, emotional narrative through my art. It was as if the subject of Domestic Violence, and my experience, had leaked into my subconscious bit by bit, and by virtue of that, had trickled its way into my paintings.
It probably took me fifteen more years to actively understand that I had been using art as a form of personal therapy. But when I did, I understood immediately that it was the greatest tool I had ever discovered. For someone who suffers with PTSD, it is the most effective personal tool that I have found thus far in coping with the stress and the emotional impact of Violence. Not only can I relieve my anger through aggressive mark making and physicality, but I can also attach a narrative that relates to my own experience with Domestic Violence. And that narrative can be a statement. I can use this tool for combating violence.
But I have always done that through Love as well. I realized recently that my Love for my mother is the single most wonderful and powerful thing I have to offer the world. Remembering her and how she died is probably the source of my power, and the source of my fight.
I remember all that my memory allows from a life that is over twenty years in the past.
I stumbled on the above-mentioned Hermann Hesse quote awhile back, and it certainly made me think. But it wasn’t until I tied that quote to my art and my own experience that I got a sense of its meaning. I also got a sense of my own power, because my Love is indeed stronger than my brother’s Violence.
My brother killed my mother’s body, but she lives through my art. He took my whole world away through a single act of Violence, and I have had to relearn to Love over the years. But in the meantime, I know that I have freed at least two trapped spirits – my mother’s and mine – through my actions of Art and Love. Can Violence say the same?
“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” -Martin Luther King Jr.