The anonymous artist’s painting, exhibited for the first time, is a jumble of words and phrases, running in every direction over splotches of bright color.
“Stay positive,” and “pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” it says. It also says, “house of pain,” “I was too young,” “rock bottom” and “suicidal.” The manifold phrases in this tangle of words are hard to see; the anguish is apparent.
The artist was a teenage victim of sexual violence. Her painting, displayed April 10 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center, marked the entrance to “Behind the Mask,” an evening of art and performance meant to illustrate the suffering of victims like her, and to raise money to provide them with recovery programs.
The fundraiser, attended by more than 200 people according to organizers, commemorated the 30th anniversary of Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Service, a Prince William County organization that runs support programs for victims. SAVAS hosted the event.
The attendees eating hors d’oeuvres at the Hylton Center saw the products of those programs: art created by teenagers in the organization’s therapy groups, including the anonymous artist who painted the jumbled phrases. The same teenager contributed a mixed-media piece to the exhibit, made of dozens of colorful fragments, seashells, sequins and other small shards.
That piece started out as a vase in the home of one of the therapists who works for the organization. When the vase broke, she brought the pieces to the young artist. According to Michele Leith, the director of SAVAS, the therapist told the teenager, “This used to be something beautiful, and now it’s broken. Can you make it something beautiful again?”
Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Service, part of the umbrella organization Action in Community Through Service, operates free therapy groups for victims who often cannot afford private therapists and a 24-hour crisis hotline on a $200,000 annual budget. The program’s volunteers also accompany victims to court proceedings and to hospitals during the medical exam that might follow a sexual assault.
Teenagers in one of the program’s free therapy groups painted masks depicting both their real feelings and the feelings they show to others. The masks hung in a gallery at the fundraiser, with quotations from the young women who made them. They later will be exhibited around the county.
Seven students in theater classes at George Mason University took up the same theme in a performance piece they wrote for the occasion. In several sketches, many performed while wearing masks they created. They explored sexual violence and other related topics.
Ruthie Rado wrote and performed an extended monologue about a young teenager who had been raped by her stepbrother.
“I just lie there as he rips the covers off of my bed. I just lie there as he rips the safety out of my home. I just lie there as he rips away my waning childhood,” Rado said in her monologue. “I just lie there wondering how I let this happen.”
Roman Voytko Barrosse performed one monologue about a boy who was told it wasn’t manly to cry. The character grows up to be a violent aggressor, who seems to present the limp body of the woman he just raped like an offering to the ghosts of his past. He asks, “Am I man enough for you now?”
In a second monologue, Barrosse echoed magazine advertisements and meddling family members who tell women to watch their weight. “We tell women and especially little girls that they don’t own their bodies, that their bodies exist for the pleasure of men,” Barrosse said after the show. “Parents have a lot of influence when they’re speaking to their kids. Just these little comments can have devastating effects.
“I have friends who’ve been affected by sexual violence,” Barrosse added. “I was fortunate enough to know enough to be supportive. I want to make sure that other people can be supportive for their friends too.”