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A young woman recounts her rape at knifepoint on a jogging path in Africa. Her recorded voice permeates the CAVE gallery in Dupont Circle as part of the D.C. Rape Crisis Center’s show “Violations,” where survivors are invited to speak of their experiences through art. The accounts begin inside the stairwell, just off the Connecticut Avenue sidewalk, where the Clothesline Project has strung red, green, and yellow T-shirts emblazoned with survivor statements, sleeve to sleeve, up three flights of stairs to the gallery door. Inside, recorded voices of survivors permeate the gallery and waft around the sculptures and paintings.
The woman’s account of her rape emanates from a makeshift room cordoned off on three sides by white linen scrims. A white cloth-draped table topped by a round marble bowl occupies its center. Greek artist Zoe Leoudaki, with the help of D.C. Rape Crisis, put out a call for survivors willing to speak. This young woman responded. “She was ready, and very assertive,” Leoudaki recalls. The artist explains that the installation, called The Shadow of Her Smile, “takes sound from real life…and recontextualizes it.”
Back in CAVE’s main room, the narrator’s voice in Julia Tell’s Repetition, Repetition seeps through the thin screening-room walls. The film plays alongside her earlier work, She’s Just Growing Up, Dear, in quarter-hour intervals. Like Leoudaki’s subject, the film’s young narrator recounts her repeated rapes by her father. The slow-motion camera closes in on her legs, her arms, and her buttocks while she relates her story in the detached third person: “He was a good father. He fed her, he clothed her, and he fucked her.” The woman’s measured narrative is later interrupted by the swirling, repeated snippets of defense and counterattack given by the father: “I never abused you. It’s you who were abusing me….I did my best by you.”
Tell, a former choreographer now concentrating on multimedia work, describes the work as “fiction based on real life.” She’s Just Growing Up, Dear screened at festivals in San Francisco; Cork, Ireland; and Melbourne, Australia, in the early ’90s. Tell finished the final cut of Repetition, Repetition last December. This weekend, Tell travels to Austin, Texas, where Repetition screens at the South by Southwest film festival. (The film screens here simultaneously at the Rosebud Film and Video Awards Nominee Showcase at the American Film Institute.) Sexual abuse “may not be fully understood by people who haven’t experienced it,” Tell says. “Instead of media ‘experts’ telling us what this experience means, survivors should frame their own stories.”Jessica Dawson
“Violations” runs through March 27 at CAVE, 1635 Connecticut Ave., NW. Repetition, Repetition screens at the Rosebud Festival this Friday and Saturday, March 12 and 13, at the Kennedy Center’s AFI Theater.