The Clothesline Project, an interactive exhibition presented by the UVU’s Center for Social Impact and UVU’s Office of Student Life, took place on Oct. 25 and 26 in the Grande Ballroom. The exhibit was a collection of multi-colored shirts made by survivors of victim and abuse in Utah County.
The event has been an annual reoccurrence at UVU since 1998. About 30 to 50 shirts have been added each year for the last five years. “We estimate that we have over 2,000 shirts in total,” explains The Clothesline Project UVU. The exhibit is meant to be a “visual display of violence statistics that often go ignored.”
The artists behind this exhibition are the anonymous survivors of violence and assault in Utah Valley. They covered their shirts with drawings, words, and phrases to speak their truths and tell their stories.
“Because our goal is to break the silence of violence, we do not censor the shirts. We support and encourage survivors in their healing process,” cautions a sign posted outside the entrance to the display to let viewers know that they may be exposed to language, content, and themes such as violence, drug use, sexual and physical abuse, and so forth.
Each shirt hanging in UVU’s Grande Ballroom is color coordinated: the white shirts represent someone who died from violence; yellow shirts are for survivors of domestic abuse or physical assault; red, pink, and orange shirts are given to survivors of sexual assault or rape; the blue and green shirts tell stories of those who have survived acts of incest or child abuse; purple shirts represent those who have been abused or assaulted for their sexual orientation; brown and gray are dedicated to survivors of emotional, spiritual, or verbal abuse; and black shirts represent the violence and assault survivors with a disability or those whose experience either left them with a disability.
“I am not a mistake” is written by a survivor of physical or domestic abuse.
A survivor of incest or childhood sexual abuse uses their shirt to convey the message that love does not equal sex.
“I never thought I would let it happen to me” is scribed in bold capital letters near the neckline of a gray shirt. The emotional abuse survivor follows the statement with red letters saying, “You beat me with your words.”
“What did I do to deserve this?” asks a survivor of rape or sexual assault.
A black shirt features several words and phrases including “isolation” and “heal.” This survivor, who was either attacked because of their disability or was left with a disability as a result of their attack, also referenced their assailant as a “monster.”
“Help! Get me out of this repeated cycle!” reads a shirt created by a survivor who was attacked on account of their sexual orientation.
Three distinct sound effects echo through the Grande Ballroom and accompany the viewing experience. “The gong is struck to indicate someone is being battered. The whistle is blown to indicate a rape is being reported. The bell is rung to indicate that someone has died in a violent attack,” explains the small sheet of paper viewers are handed upon entering the exhibit. The whistle explanation also reminds viewers to “Keep in mind that most rapes are not reported.”
The exhibit features a private space for survivors to add their contribution to the clothesline. Contributors don’t have to remain anonymous, however, signs posted on each aisle of the exhibit remind viewers that every UVU employee is a mandatory reporter of sexual assault. “If you disclose your name on a shirt or to a UVU employee, it will be passed to the UVU TITLE IX office.”
Their website details that the overall purpose of this project is to “increase awareness of the impact of violence and abuse, to honor a survivor’s strength to continue, and to provide another avenue for them to courageously break the silence that often surrounds their experience.” It also serves as a reminder that, “Assault and abuse are a problem everywhere – even in our own community.”
The Clothesline Project originated in Massachusetts in 1990 when a member of the Cape Cod’s Women Defense Agenda learned that “during the same time 58,000 soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War, 51,000 U.S. women were killed by the men who claimed to love them.” Learning this information served as motivation for the women’s group to design a program that would “speak up and reveal the issue of violence against women.”
UVU provides several crisis resources for students who are or know someone who is experiencing or suffering from mental or physical health crises. Students can also visit the Student Health Services Office in room 221 of the Sorensen Center for further information and assistance.