Have you ever talked about rape at a dinner party? No, well you should. That is what Winnie M Li, co-curator of the Clear Lines Festival thinks should happen. Why? Because the there is a problem with current debates: not only are they virtually nonexistent they are also dominated by a tone that denigrate victims rather than deal honestly and openly with the real issues.
Open to all and employing the arts as a platform the Clear Lines Festival, which ran from 30th July to 2nd August 2015, was instigated to provide a safe environment for people to explore issues relating to sexual violence in a way that would replace the deafening silence and social imposed shame with “insight, understanding and community”.
Using the arts as a medium was a masterstroke on the part of the organizers. Writing, photography, painting, film, theatre, poetry and comedy all served to create an atmosphere that encourage all to share their thoughts and feelings, their questions and fears and, most painfully, their experiences. Many of the women present, whether as a part of the organizational team or as an attendee, are survivors of sexual violence; their presence and their voices formed the solemn and inspirational core of the event.
It was clear from the beginning that despite the traumatic nature of what happened to them, none of those women wanted to be seen, to be labeled, as victims; hence the term: survivor. Some spoke about the attack, or attacks on them with a calm state of detachment, others were more openly emotional, more fragile, while others were angry. For each of the survivors there is no escaping the fact that the attacks happened, they are a part of their lives that will be with them forever, but they are not something that will, or should define them as women, as human beings. Each one of the survivors at the festival was, in her own way and in her own time, overcoming what was forced upon her: the destructive will of a man. Each one of them was truly magnificent in their transcendence, their courage and strength was one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen and should it serve as a lesson to us all.
The festival was a success because it was free of the stereotypes and biases that choke the media and the entertainment industry. The women weren’t headlines or statistics, their accounts weren’t used to shock or titillate; instead they communicated honestly about what, as one attendee put it “fifty percent of the population has to worry about as soon as they develop tits”.
This is the degree of openness that every taboo subject, not just sexual assault needs, and this community of though and experience must be the template for more of these events; events where the arts can provide a safe and respectful platform for the people to communicate meaningfully, so as to dispel the easily accepted myths that develop in the wake of embarrassed silence.