“As survivors, we all know what it’s like to be treated as objects,” begins artist Sarah Jane in her candid interview with Ksenija Pavlovic. Sarah is currently undertaking “Mere Objects” an art project for victims of sexual assault.
- How did you come up with an idea and motivation to launch a project Mere Objects?
Sarah Jane: This project began with a desire to honor survivors and to help our communities see us in a different light.
I’m uncomfortable with stereotypes that portray survivors as fragile waifs with ruined lives; the survivors I know are strong, wise, compassionate people who are living full lives.
The encouragement I’ve received from other survivors regarding this project has given me enormous motivation to see it through to completion.
- You, yourself, are a survivor of a sexual assault. What kind of impact had this experience on you as a human, a woman and as an artist?
Sarah Jane: Although, I didn’t have a choice in being raped, I do have a choice in how I make sense of and respond to that experience. I’m definitely more outspoken as a result, and I hope that I have also grown wiser, more grounded, and more compassionate.
- In your work, you have focused on installations, ceramics, and two-dimensional work. In what way, if any, is Mere Objects different?
Sarah Jane: I’ve done a number of interactive or participatory projects in the past, and I love working in multiples and hanging things from the ceiling, so those elements are consistent with my previous work. However, this is the first project I’ve done that specifically focuses on sexual assault and the survivor community, which requires a particular vulnerability and tenderness on my part. Another new aspect is the use of social media to reach potential participants.
- What has been a response from women so far about your initiative? What kind of message you are hoping to send with Mere Objects?
Sarah Jane: To be honest, I’m both humbled and overwhelmed at the responses! The message I’m hoping to send is that we are present everywhere so that survivors will know they are not alone, and so that communities will gain awareness of sexual assault. That seems to be resonating with a lot of people.
- Participation in the project is anonymous. What is it that the women who would like to participate need to do?
Sarah Jane: Not all survivors are women; this is an issue that touches people of all genders. Every survivor, regardless of gender, is invited to choose a tiny object to represent them, and send it to me. I’m placing the objects in tiny bottles which will hang together in the finished installation. The full instructions are available at facebook.com/mereobjectsproject
- What made you keep going after a traumatic event? In other words, what made you survive?
Sarah Jane: I don’t think anyone is “good” at surviving trauma, but we also don’t know what we’re capable of doing until we’re faced with no other choice. I realized early on that the only way things would ever get better was for me to keep going.
On the hardest days, I tried to focus on that little glimmer of hope. My friends have also been extraordinary; their presence and support has been a rock for me.
- Is our society ready to openly talk about sexual abuse?
Sarah Jane: I think we are slowly getting better at this; there seems to be more conversation and awareness in mainstream spaces than there was a decade ago. We still have ways to go, but I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction.
- What do Mere Objects symbolize?
Sarah Jane: As survivors, we all know what it’s like to be treated as objects. But, we are not mere objects, and the items that we choose to represent ourselves are not “mere” objects, either – they signify our shared humanity. One of the survivors in my advisory group initially suggested the title Mere Objects after I used the phrase in something I wrote. I love that the idea came from her and not from me.
- In what way is art therapeutic?
Sarah Jane: Many artists describe working through deep pain in the course of making art, and I absolutely believe that happens, but it hasn’t been my experience.
For me, healing comes through spending time in nature, connecting with close friends, and spiritual practices like meditation. Those things allow me to be in the studio and make my work, not the other way around.
I do hope that participating in this project and viewing this project, can be a comforting and affirming experience for survivors and those who love them.
- Please finish this sentence. What women need right now….
Sarah Jane: All human beings require safety, dignity, and respect in order to thrive and grow into the best versions of ourselves.