Domestic violence is something that knows no boundaries: women (and children and a smaller percentage of men) of all ages often suffer in silence at the hands of someone they live with.
This is a complex, multi-layered issue, and some people may feel unable to talk about what is happening to them.
Young women with children often seek help earlier as they may be concerned about their child’s well-being, but some older women may feel that they have put up with abuse for so long that there is no point in trying to change anything.
Women’s Aid ABCLN and Spark Opera co-hosted a curated exhibition titled “It’s Never Too Late” to highlight the experiences of older women who have experienced domestic violence.
The exhibit, which opens June 30 at Junction Retail and Leisure Park, will feature several different art forms, including visual and written arts and dance.
Keith Goelcke of Spark Opera organized workshops and produced to “realize the participants’ vision”.
She says the exhibition is important in many ways.
“The project is for women in the ‘older but insecure’ women’s assistance group, and with the support of the Arts Council’s ‘Arts and Seniors’ program, we were able to focus on this group and spend time with the members working on it as their production company,” adds she is.
“I find it incredibly important that everyone has access to art, and for these participants, anonymity and freedom of action is crucial.
“We wanted to test a model in which the contributors pushed the project forward and the artists acted as facilitators to help bring the work to fruition.
“The results of this really speak for themselves, with an extremely varied and original range of pieces.
“This is a portfolio that features photography, dance, sculpture, word processing and plant life. I am so proud of what has been achieved because the work is incredible.”
The exhibition is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland through the Arts and Seniors program and funded by the National Lottery, the Public Health Agency and the Baring Foundation to raise awareness of domestic violence and provide greater protection for women aged 55 and older.
“Helping women ABCLN has a long track record of working with the creative community in Northern Ireland to raise awareness about domestic violence,” explains Bronach O’Boyle, an associate with the charity.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Spark Opera on the Never Too Late project, where art helps older women who have experienced domestic violence.
“We want them to know that it’s never too late to ask for help.
“And it has allowed older women who have experienced domestic violence to use art to tell their stories in a safe, supportive and inspiring environment.
“From dance to crafts, fine arts and writing, women are taking an art-based approach to healing and connecting with each other.”
One in four women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and in Northern Ireland the PSNI recorded 31,196 cases of domestic violence in 2020/21.
“On average, the PSNI responds to one incident every 17 minutes,” says O’Boyle. “We know that every instance of domestic violence can be devastating for women and children living with violence and abuse.
“Since the lockdown began, 13 women have been killed in Northern Ireland because of domestic violence.
“Helping Women ABCLN provides confidential support, information and emergency housing for women and children affected by domestic violence in Antrim, Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Larne and Newtownabbey.
“We offer individual support and practical assistance to women in the shelter and in the community, as well as specialized services and support for children and youth.
“Our Older But Unsafe project provides awareness and increased protection for women aged 55 and over.
“We believe that no one should live in fear or threat of abuse.
“We listen to what women tell us, and their voices and life experiences influence every aspect of our work.”
This new project is about making their concerns heard and seen by others, and Keith Goelcke, artistic director of Spark, a public opera company, says the exhibition will appeal to anyone with an interest in the arts.
“The fragments stand on their own. For example, a 10-foot dying tree is covered in barbed wire and nails, but glitters with earrings. It’s dead on the inside, but “necessarily” accessorized,” she adds.
“In another, the serene sea view is interrupted by a trash can ruining the scene and [a further piece shows] a dancer controlled from within, her every movement dictated by a negative introject.
“The other shows two identical plants, indicating the consequences of nurturing kindness and cruel neglect. And long-term X-ray diary entries show the normalized abuse that is part of the pattern of everyday life.
“These works explore experience with unmistakable honesty. Self-image distorted by coercive control and gaslighting is a common theme.
“The artists have chosen an appropriate title for their group exhibition – it is called Through the Dark Glass.
Brona O’Boyle, who coordinates groups to build self-confidence, build self-esteem and reduce isolation for women who have experienced domestic violence, says Women’s Aid ABCLN is “working to create a society where domestic violence is not tolerated and women and children can live without the threat of violence.”
“Together we are working to end domestic violence,” she adds. “Groups [she facilitates] to give women victims of domestic violence the opportunity to share their opinions and life experiences and to take part in creative projects (such as “It’s Never Too Late”).
“The Arts and Seniors program supports arts organizations across the region in a series of community arts projects for seniors.
“It aims to combat isolation and loneliness while promoting the positive mental health and well-being of older people through interaction with the arts, and aims to challenge notions of what it means to be an older person.
“Many older women may have lived with domestic violence all their adult lives, silently and unnoticed, or it may start in later years, so a greater understanding and awareness of domestic violence can provide them with much needed protection.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with Spark Opera to raise awareness of domestic violence affecting older women and empower communities to recognize and respond to emerging issues.
“Older women are telling us that they may be older, but they are not safer, and with this project we want them to know that it is never too late to ask for help. So, come and join us at the opening of the exhibition on Thursday, June 30, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at the Junction Retail and Leisure Park in Antrim to find out more.”
To register for the opening of the exhibition, send an email to [email protected] For more information, you can call Women’s Aid ABCLN on 028 25 632136.