Sarah McIntosh visits the gently powerful series of connected artworks by E. Clare James at the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church, that brings home the invisible, yet devastating concept of coercive control as researched by Evan Stark.
The run up to Christmas is filled with busyness, shopping and family events. A time of togetherness and celebration. Yet it is also the time of year when domestic abuse increases. Domestic violence against women (and less frequently perpetrated by women against men and within gay relationships) takes many forms and this quietly persuasive mixed media exhibition by artist E. Clare James’s ReCOVERy exposes different aspects of Stark’s “liberty crime”.
The chosen site for this exhibition, tucked to one side of the balcony of the Methodist Church on Nicolson Square, is almost hidden; perhaps another metaphoric connection to the ways in which women’s voice (the women were more apparent in the kitchen rather than the male-dominated meeting in the main area) and autonomy can be restricted.
It is a difficult subject to broach as it is so invisible. To all intents and purposes, the outside world, even close friends will witness what they might consider “normality” since there may be no physical evidence within the relationship. It is far too subtle a form of abuse for external signs. Control is exercised through complex forms such as unspoken rules, restrictions, levels of service, sexual degradation, surveillance and financial restraints as well as, but not necessarily physical violence. This can necessitate coping mechanisms including drug/alcohol abuse and self harm in the victim.
James’s work uses tools and materials from the domestic realm, predominantly bedsheets, symbolic of the mundane and of the one space that should be safe but often is not, altered and re-worked with needle and thread, paint and other found (at home, rather than bought) items to create a dialogue with different aspects of this abuse. Needlework has always been considered a feminine art-form, but also one which renders the artist house-bound and solitary; isolation is a tool of the abuser.
But despite the gravity of the subject matter, ReCOVERy like the recovery from such abuse, comes from communing, starting with sharing the viewing of the artworks with other women and also through the final piece, 35 Shades of Yellow, which is being developed during the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women. The last colour of a bruise before it finally heals, yellow will be present in 35 different forms to signify the average number of times a woman is assaulted before she seeks help, though it is ultimately a celebration of ‘the strength and resilience of survivors’ (Nel Whiting of Scottish Women’s Aid). This is one whispered message that shouts volumes on behalf of the silent.