CLARE Haven Services are currently hosting a multimedia exhibiton entitled Hidden Truths: Behind Closed Doors, which explores the experience and themes of domestic abuse in Clare.
The exhibition aims to draw peoples attention to the reality of domestic abuse in a novel and thought provoking way.
It is on at their premises at Abbey Lodge on the road between Ennis and Clarecastle until December 10, and is part of the organisation’s 16 Days of Action to Prevent Violence Against Women calendar of events.
For the exhibition a number of rooms have been transformed, with thought provoking pieces installed which bring home the reality of domestic abuse for women and children.
Dr Siobhán O’Connor is Manager of services at Clare Haven and speaking about the exhibition at its launch last Wednesday, she said, “This all comes out of a thought process I had about two years ago when I saw the space we had here and thought about how best to tell the story of domestic abuse. I met with Paul Corey and he had ideas of his own at the end of last year. He gathered a team of six artists, I gave him my ideas and they all gave him their ideas and they have created a multi media exhibition on what domestic abuse is in Clare.
“We called it Hidden Truths: Behind Closed Doors because domestic abuse is always carried on behind closed doors, nobody ever knows what goes on behind closed doors or behind the facade of a happy marriage or a happy relationship. There are an awful lot of hidden truths, an awful lot of harm and torture and pain behind those closed doors.”
Clare Haven offers refuge accommodation, it runs a confidential helpline and a drop in centre, it provides court accompaniment and t runs education awareness and prevention programmes.
“Statistics have told us that one in four women experience domestic abuse and sexual based violence. The Covid situation has brought it to the fore, but all it really did was expose what was happening anyway. Before a woman and her children if she had any, might have been able to get away or utilise public spaces. That no longer can happen because of lockdowns and restricted access to say public libraries, schools, work places etc,” says Dr O’Connor.
By its nature domestic abuse largely happens behind closed doors, so many people have little real experience or knowledge of it, and the exhibition hopes to use art to increase understanding.
“This uses lots of different media, there’s sculpture, there’s film, there’s painting. People hear or see stories in different ways so we’re trying to tell the same story in different mediums to really reach out and mean something to anyone who sees it,” says Dr O’Connor.
While there may be publicity campaigns from time to time, the exhibition hopes to make the message accessible in another way. “It’s a different way of hearing it, a different way of knowing what’s going on. We can put articles in newspapers or ads on radio but maybe you might see something in the short film or in the sculpture that appeals to you or makes sense to you, in a way that another medium might not make sense to you. The six artists that came together, they really did a lot of research and investigation into the subject matter, put a lot of thought and effort into the works that are there. It’s quite harrowing in some ways, but it’s really powerful as well to tell that story. Every story of domestic abuse is different, so every room is different. There are 11 rooms all designed in different ways, there are 11 stories there, but there are thousands more stories across the county and country.”
Clare Haven can take up to six women and 21 children at any one time and Dr O’Connor said that its refuge has been “very, very busy” during Covid-19, as has its helpline and its outreach clinics.
The usual places people might go for some respite have been closed for long spells of times, making things even more difficult for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. “Covid-19 exacerbated it for those who are experiencing it and being subjected to it. Also those outlets that women and children had in the past when things were escalating, they were closed off to them, particularly during the first lockdown where you couldn’t go more than two kilometres, all schools were closed, creches were closed, businesses were closed. Everyone was encouraged to work from home.
“I suppose that’s one of the saddest parts; because we were told the safest place from this pandemic is in our homes, but for women and children being subjected to domestic abuse, that’s the least safe place in their whole environment. With the increase in numbers of women who sought refuge, they were in such danger that they left the so-called safety of their home and went out into a pandemic, into an unknown illness, because what was behind them was worse than what was in front of them.”
The exhibition continues until December 10, the last of the 16 Days of Action to Prevent Violence Against Women.
Clare Haven are running a number of events during the initiative. “We’re ending our 16 days activity with a candlelight walk from Ennis Garda Station to the Courthouse, that’s leaving the Garda Station at 5.30pm. We’re also working in collaboration with the Clare County Library service and the staff will be out in the libraries over the next two weeks, there will be stands and information for anyone whose interested in the work we do and if someone wants to find out about domestic abuse we’re there to answer questions.”
Dr O’Connor encouraged people to try and get to the exhibition if possible. “You will have to book your space because of the Covid restrictions, but please do come and see the story. So many women and children are suffering in silence, behind closed doors.”
Rachel McManus was one of the project managers on the delivery of the exhbition and summarising it she said, “It’s occupying the first floor of the Clare Haven offices here at Abbey Lodge. There are 11 rooms and it’s a multi media sensory installation based around explaining to the public what they don’t know about contemporary domestic abuse in Ireland.”
She also sees the value of bringing the message around domestic abuse to people in a new way. “What we’re trying to do is use art to show people rather than giving them an information sheet. We want to give them a sensory, visual experience, where they can touch, feel, see, smell. We find if you assault people’s senses in that way they will remember and they will learn in a different way and everyone will take away a different experience.”
The artists involved had to educate themselves before going to work, she added. “With Covid it was hard. We set up a good number of Zoom meetings with the Clare Haven staff. We used the information we got from them about their jobs and what they encounter as about 70-80% of the basis of the themes you’ll see upstairs in the rooms. We kind of used their experiences and what they told us as our starting point and we built our concepts from the information we got from the staff.”
Ms McManus said part of the point of the exhibition is to provide a level of education on the matter. “It’s about what people don’t know. If you’re a member of the public you ask questions like why doesn’t just up and leave if they’re in trouble, why is that a problem for people. When you learn the complexities of why it’s not that simple, you start to become aware of things in a different way.
“We wanted to approach the exhibition the way we learned. We didn’t know these things but we learned them so we asked ourselves how do we tell other people who are coming into it the same way as us. Essentially, uneducated about this, without being condescending or without being sensationalist and being respectful of the fact that there are people in Clare whose family members have died recently. That was our challenge and what we’ve tried to do.”
Broadcaster, author and Shannon native Rachel English came to Clare Haven Services to launch the exhibition and she was very impressed. “I’m really taken aback by how powerful it is, it’s quite something. If you go to the room with the wedding dresses in it, it’s so claustrophobic and it really does bring it home to you what it must be like to live in a situation where you have to watch every word, every breath, every step. Especially at the moment. It’s so hard to imagine what it must be like for somebody who’s living in a situation at the moment where they’re thinking if everything shuts again, if we’re stuck at home again, what’s it going to be like. For most of us it’s just a bit of an inconvenience, but if you’re living in a really bad situation at the monent you’d be living in fear of that happening.”
She said the level of increase in domestic abuse since the spring of 2020 is very worrying. “I’m very conscious that since the start of the pandemic, the people whose lives were tough to begin with, they’re the ones whose lives have been most affected. The reported incidents of domestic violence have gone up and the Guards have said it’s one of the big issues for them and it has been very difficult to handle.”
* Due to restrictions viewings of the exhibiton are by appointment only and groups are limited to 20 people. To book call 065 6842646 or 087 2143769 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.