My Name is Strong exhibit opens at Union Avenue Church

Works from across the globe respond to gender-based violence

“algunas cosas no deben de ser olvidadas”/”some things are not to be forgotten” by Patricia De La Parra

Female survivors of violence know anguish, pain and fear.

But that’s not all.

They also know courage, bravery and strength.

The exhibit, “My Name is Strong,” celebrates that power through more than 60 works of art by both survivors of gender-based violence and those who are committed to preventing it.

“We took a strength-based approach,” said Caroline Fish,

who co-founded My Name is Strong with two other Brown School graduate students, Jay Celin and Ambar Plasencia, as a commitment to violence prevention.

“A lot of times, people get bogged down by the stories of trauma and these acts of violence. And as awful as those moments are, they don’t have to define us. The trauma is not the be-all and the end-all. That’s why I really wanted to focus on the strength and the bravery, not the trauma and the weakness. I wanted to celebrate those who survive every day and the people who offer support and are fighting back.”

“Against all violence” by Key Sun

My Name is Strong was one of the many student-led projects endorsed by Clinton Global Initiative University, which took place at Washington University in St. Louis in April. Since then, the My Name is Strong has received submissions from as far away as Idaho and New Hampshire; Canada and Libya. The group also hosted open art studios on campus and provided canvases, paint and other art supplies to community partners Safe Connections, YWCA Metro St. Louis Regional Sexual Assault Center and ALIVE Inc. At first, some participants questioned how a paintbrush could help them process their experience.

“People would come in and say, ‘I don’t feel strong.’ And that was OK,” Fish said. “We told people that they didn’t have to create a piece for the exhibit, but what ended up happening in some cases is that they changed their mind. Once they got started, they were able to paint out their feelings.”

Untitled sketch by Rory O’Brien

The exhibit also features stories, poems and songs. But many found that visual art allowed them to express what they could not say.

“One person said to me, ‘People always want me to explain what it was like or to talk about it or to write about it. If I knew how to do that, I would. That’s why I’m an artist,’” Fish said. “I found that this project really reached those people who were done talking about it or didn’t know how to talk about it.”

Fish was both heartened and saddened by the volume of submissions she received in the final weeks leading up to the show. About one-third of the exhibit’s artists asked to remain anonymous.

“It makes you realize how prevalent the problem is. That part has been very emotional for me,” Fish said. “But this is also about our community turning this issue on its head and saying, ‘We are strong people and I want to speak up.’ It’s actually a good feeling.”

My Name is Strong

What: A community art exhibit featuring works by family, friends and individuals impacted by gender-based violence.

When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20; WU-Slam poets will perform at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Union Avenue Church, 733 Union Blvd.

More info: My Name is Strong Facebook Page

Anonymous submission from Alive Inc.