April 2, 2014

Volunteering at The SASC for The Clothesline Project

In the first week of March I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) on one of their best known campus projects. The Clothesline Project, as it’s called, took place in the Student Union Building (SUB), and the strung clothesline structure filled the entire concourse.

The project began in 1990, and the original intent was a medium in which violence survivors could express their emotions by decorating a shirt. Upon its completion the shirt would be hung on a public clothesline as a visual testament, and reminder, that violence is prevalent and alive among us.

The purpose of the Clothesline Project at UBC is to act as a medium in which all individuals, not just violence survivors, can express themselves. It is an inclusive community art project that focuses on visual expression of the self.

I enjoyed volunteering at the project for two reasons. It was interesting to observe the different messages on the shirts, and the vast range of responses. The messages varied, as I’m sure the experiences varied. Some of the messages were full of anger towards the abuser, both verbal and visual. Others were celebrations of the self and were full of glitter and bright colour. More in the collection displayed messages of support for victims of violence.

Secondly, it was interesting to watch people’s reactions to the displayed shirts. I saw shock, outrage, and sympathy flicker on viewer’s faces when shirts that addressed abuse were viewed. There were many smiles when the crowd approached at the ones bearing messages of self-encouragement and celebration. Some people glanced, others studied for extended periods of time, some viewed from afar and some chose to walk up close and stare hard, as though the item at hand was abstruse.

Regardless of the message or viewer reactions, it was empowering to think of the project’s reach. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and visitors walk through the SUB each day and the Clothesline Project. My hope is that if there is a violence survivor, or victim, who walks by and sees this bold expression, it will give them the encouragement to express themselves and their experience as well. 

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