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Sexual Assault: The Roadshow opens in Pembroke

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

Sexual Assault: The Roadshow is now open in Pembroke.

 

The powerful traveling art gallery, packed inside a retrofitted shipping container, has been set up at Pembroke's waterfront parking lot within sight of the amphitheatre. Its city visit is being hosted by the Women's Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County.

For the next couple of weeks, it will serve as a workshop, rehearsal and discussion space for local artists who will work with local anti-violence agencies and participants to create and curate art that will “talk back” to sexual violence.

At the end of each stop, all art will be exhibited for the public.

The project is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, and while geared towards people who have experienced sexual violence, is designed to be an educational piece open to everyone. It is visiting 15 Ontario communities over the course of three years, with Pembroke being the 11th stop.

The exhibit is the brainchild of activist Jane Doe and artist Lilian Allen who invited Toronto youth to create the art – visual art, spoken word, photography, poems, videos, posters and more.

Through the power of art, Roadshow participants will have the opportunity to open their mind, reflect, creatively explore their responses to sexual violence and be inspired to develop meaningful solutions to end it.

Jane Doe is a survivor of sexual assault, who was attacked and raped by a serial rapist in 1986 in Toronto. She became angered when she discovered the police already knew the suspect's identity, but didn't warn the public; instead, they monitored his movements, and were essentially using local women as bait to trap the man.

She launched a lawsuit against the police and won it 11 years later in 1998. Due to an ongoing publication ban on her identity and image, she still cannot be photographed or identified, but that hasn't stopped her from being an activist and writer for the last 30 years.

“People still aren't speaking about sexual assault,” she said. Art, on the other hand, gives people permission to talk about it in a different way.

“Art is a different language to express this,” Doe said. It is about triggers and trauma, she explained, but it is also about courage, strength, resistance and the joy of overcoming it.

Allen, the Roadshow's artistic director, said the project is very important to her and all involved. She said she is appalled that after all this time, there still remains a generation of young men who feel they can help themselves to women's bodies.

“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do,” she said. Through this exhibit and the art and discussion it encourages, perhaps a greater movement against violence against women can be ignited.

JoAnne Brooks, director of the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre of Renfrew County, said she wanted to thank everyone for coming out to support the project, and to Megan Cyr, the Women’s Sexual Assault Centre's french language service coordinator, who helped to bring the Roadshow here to Pembroke.

“I think this will generate conversation,” she said.

Cyr said she and the centre reached out to Roadshow because they saw a real need to have it here, considering the trial of the man who is charged with murdering three Ottawa Valley women in 2015 is set to start this fall.

“We felt we needed to have this exhibit here in the county,” she said. “It shows we are still talking about it and working towards change.”

Cyr said she wanted to thank the city and Ron Conroy, the manager of the city's Parks and Recreation Department, for their help in making this a reality.

Once it is done its run in Pembroke, Sexual Assault: The Roadshow will head to Eganville to set up next to the Tourist Information Booth on Highway 60, from Sept. 18 to 28.

SUhler@postmedia.com