In the past year, we have seen the devastating effects of rape culture from Steubenville to Penn State to the untimely deaths of survivors to the documentary The Invisible War. We have read and heard victim-blaming and the ignorant comments of politicians. Public discourse like this, which often disparages rape survivors, results in the perpetuation of rape culture. If we are to see a shift in the discourse about issues of rape, we need a space to publicly acknowledge the voices of survivors.
Enter FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture with their latest "art action," the crowd-funded "Memorial Quilt." Inspired by the AIDS Quilt by The NAMES Project, this textile-based installation will be temporarily set up in the National Mall next summer. The co-founders of FORCE hope it will enable a "shift [in] how our culture treats survivors, from shaming, blaming, and isolating them to honoring, supporting, and listening to them." The quilt will spell out, "We are heard. This is not our fault. We are not alone," functioning as a gigantic "picnic blanket," where the public will be invited to sit and read stories of survivors stitched onto the quilt. The temporary installation will allow survivors and stories to occupy a public space, providing a chance to share and heal with family, friends, and any others who may wish to offer their support.
Begun in 2010 by Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle, FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture is a "creative activist effort to upset the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent." Both met as students at the Maryland Institute College of Art, forming FORCE after working on individual projects about rape and abuse. I spoke with Hannah, who illuminated some of the inspiration behind the Memorial Quilt. She noted the importance of Maya Lin's Vietnam War Memorial and the work of ACT UP, Gran Fury, and NAMES, as these groups worked to remove the stigma of HIV/AIDS. Similarly, Hannah remarked that FORCE aims to remove the stigma surrounding survivors of rape and abuse.
She said, "We chose to create a public monument in our nation's capital because as Judith Herman [author of Trauma and Recovery] writes, 'The most common trauma of women remains confined to the sphere of private life, without formal recognition or restitution from the community. There is no public monument for rape survivors.'"
FORCE believes public recognition of survivors and the crisis of rape is essential in creating a cultural shift, evidenced by past "art actions." These have included "This is Consent," which had individuals, male and female, hold up signs of what consent means to them, to "PINK loves consent," which involved a "prank" purporting to be Victoria's Secret, featuring a line of consent-based underwear. Their latest project, a precursor to the Memorial Quilt, was "Mourning and Rage," a temporary floating poem, installed in the Reflecting Pool at the Washington Monument on Valentine's Day. As noted in the description of the art action on FORCE's site, "The poem, written by a survivor, highlights the isolating and silencing experience of rape in the United States."
While FORCE is advocating for the eventual installation of a permanent memorial in our nation's capital, for now, the Kickstarter campaign for the Memorial Quilt is under way. Even with this temporary installation, Hannah is hopeful that it will foster public awareness. "We know that the first step to healing is to tell the story and regain a sense of self and to find safety. It is also essential for survivors to reconnect with their community, and this part of the healing process is one that is foreign to American culture. A public monument is one way to help survivors reconnect and be supported publicly," she noted.
Here are ways you can get involved. As noted, the Monument Quilt is a Kickstarter-funded art action. Currently, FORCE is only $1,000 away from their goal of $25,000. The campaign ends this June 22 at 11:50 a.m. The Kickstarter campaign can be found here. FORCE is also collecting stories of survivors to be stitched onto the quilt, and these can be submitted to www.themonumentproject.org. Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Nagle are also seeking interested individuals to facilitate community conversations about the need for a public monument, and they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A public monument to rape and abuse survivors is not only essential for survivors. While it provides a physical space meant to foster healing, the work of FORCE is just as important to the general public. Rape is an experience that isolates the individual. The monument would provide the public acknowledgement that no survivor is alone. It is time for this monument so that, as a nation and individuals, we can collectively bear witness to the trauma of rape and abuse. It is time for this monument so that we can empower survivors to speak out and heal.