A week from today, the atrium of South Station will be filled with hundreds of shirts made by survivors of sexual violence, their families, and their loved ones. Each shirt represents the maker’s experience of rape, sexual assault, or child sexual abuse. You can see a selection of the shirts here.
The Clothesline Project is an intensely powerful display. It’s probably the most outright confrontational thing we do in terms of outreach - you can’t turn away from it. You can’t unsee it. It forces you to confront the reality of sexual violence in your community.
(I wanted to post several shirts here, scattered throughout the post! But our computers are archaic, and they aren’t letting me. I may try to add them when I get home.)
People have very different reactions to the Project. There are those who get angry at the world; there are those who get angry at us. There are those who silently weep. There are those who, feeling finally that they have permission to speak, cannot stop speaking - a torrent of words that, in some cases, have never been spoken.
That’s one of the most common reactions. As a culture, we are taught to be silent on this topic. It’s regarded as unspeakable. There are people all around you, every day, who hold this secret within them. Some of them have told family, friends. Some of them have told no one.
Imagine feeling all your life that this is unspeakable - then seeing this display, hundreds of shirts, hundreds of statements from hundreds of women and men. Giving permission to speak. Encouraging you to speak.
Sometimes it’s brief - a man studying the display from a distance, stepping up, and telling a volunteer that he was raped as a child, and thanking us for doing this, and then vanishing into the crowd. Sometimes someone comes back throughout the day, touching each shirt; sometimes people come back and bring their friends.
Sometimes people will not speak. And that’s okay, too.
The Clothesline Project is there to provoke a reaction - but the thing about emotional reactions to traumatic events is that there’s no wrong reaction. Not speaking is as valid as speaking. Choosing not to confront the images is fine, if that’s what you need.
But we hope you’ll be there.
We hope you’ll come out and look at the shirts. We hope you’ll talk to the BARCC staff and volunteers in attendance; we want to have that conversation with you.
And the people who made the shirts want you to witness them and their experiences.
I made a shirt, when I lived in Atlanta. I’d just done a candle-lighting ritual for survivors - I lit a candle for every survivor I knew, or every survivor who was directed to my blog by their friends.
I lit 236 candles that night, for women, men, and children from literally around the world.
On my shirt, I drew candles, flames. I said “I lit 236 candles, one for every survivor I know; they lit my entire house and spilled out into the street.”
I plan to make another shirt for next week’s display. And on the shirt I’ll wear for BARCC’s Walk for Change, I will be writing the names of every survivor I know; that shirt will get donated to the project, too.
Wednesday, April 7. South Station Atrium. Come and see the shirts - witness, and speak.
Contact us to display the Project at your college or organization, or to host a shirtmaking workshop of your own.