Extract from the opening speech at the Landtag of Bavaria (State Parliament of Bavaria) on March 25, 2015:
,,We all know what a bruise or an open wound looks like. The cause is always an experience of violence. The physical consequences of violence on the body are visible. But what about emotional wounds? These are invisible and are often first aware to the concerned victims after some years have passed. Physical wounds can be healed and pain can be lindered. What happens to the psyche? How and what can it be healed with? That's what science, and especially the field of Liberal Sciences, has been investigating intensively since the 19th century.
It was in the year 2002, when I was a Painting and Graphic Design student at the Kattowitz Arts Academy, that I was searching for a symbol which could visually represent the invisible consequences and aspects of violence that are difficult to name, even for the victims. The representative symbols found up to now in the field of painting and graphic design only seemed to show a hint of that which I intended to express. The language of pictures was my tool, and I had to expand this language in order to translate indescribable experiences of violence into art.
After my friend, who studied Psychology at the time, and I had had endless discussions on this topic, she steered my attention to the definition of the word ,,shield“. She recognized this symbol in my paintings during this period. So this term became a key word to me. 13 years ago I started walking down this path of ,,shields“, and I am still doing this today. The „shield“ became a symbol to me which symbolized the female psyche that had suffered under violence. A ,,shield“ is an object which repells an attack, but at the same time it keeps and records the marks of violence.
The research on this subject became the theme of my doctoral dissertation at the Arts Academy in Poland in 2010. In 2013 the cycle ,,Shields“ received the honors of the Academy. These objects treated, among other things, economic, domestic and sexual violence, sexual abuse on children, but also female genital mutilation.
,,Shields“ had taken on different shapes during the entire history of mankind.
The old Romans, for instance, used a round, curved form.The Vikings used a very flat and round shield with a protective hollow mould for the hand. I put both shield forms together to imitate the form of the female breast.
Shields have always been a masculine attribute. The history of men in antiquity is closely woven with heroic deeds during battles and wars, mostly armed and associated with bravery and strength, but also with violence. The shields that were carried by warriors are both just as much attributes of a fighter as they are a synonym for protection. It is interesting to see that they show artistic symbols which strongly vary from one another. On the famous shield of the dark Hephaestus one sees the
history of the world pictured with seas and countries, darkness aand lightness, sun and stars, but also the life of simple people during war and peace.
From Greek mythology we also know the archetypal stories of women who determine their lives through weaving. Ariadne tells love stories between Gods and mortal women. Penelope wove and tore the shroud of her dead husband so that it would never be finished. In this way she proved her loyalty and she wanted to hold up her fate.
But the weaving frame is much too small to tell the unmerciful story of these women. Thread is a material which is too weak and susceptible to damage. One needs a resistant and harder material, in a certain way a masculine material, which is, nevertheless, not associated with violence.That is how the idea came up to take the weak, unstable thread out a woman's hands and give her a shield which enables her to protect herself from violence, but which at the time gives her the opportunity to tell her own story.
I call my shields the ,,surgeons of the soul“. The creative process begins exactly there, where the deliverance from a trauma begins. This art issues directly from the transformation of the injury into artistic strength, and overtakes the function of the surgical thread there where the psyche cannot sew, and the function of screws, where one cannot screw together the plates around psychological clefts.
The ,,shields“ show how one can cope with emotional wounds, transform weakness into strength, turn tragedy into victory. For these processes there are no rules or limits. A person who takes this painful and difficult path to establish a relationship between the inside and the outside world can find a new identity, take a chance out of the crisis to make an artistic expression and develop further personally.
Of all aspects of violence which I treat in my cycle ,,Shields“, the worst form is sexual violence on children.
There is no compensation which can neutralize this crime. The only counterweight against abuse is expressing the truth about it. My work should contribute to this.
The exposition ,,Shields“ is the first pillar of this project. This exposition and presentations on it contribute to the dismantling of taboos on violence. The second pillar of the project ,,Shields- Women against violence“ is about constructing shields with women who have suffered violence.This method,, which I call Art Trauma Therapy, should be supported, researched and recorded in order to help the concerned women on their way to liberation, competently and sustainingly. How necessary it is, to give traumatized people help and support, is something that we're all aware of. To realize both these projects, the organization “Shields Against Violence“ was founded.
I hope that this exposition connects to, eventually touches people, invites them to do some reflection and encourage a dialogue. I hope that many people will find answers, comprehension and compassion through this exposition- like for example the two men who told me their difficult life stories next to the shields, while standing there and crying. My wish consists in successfully realizing the project ,,Shields“ with concerned women and exposing their works, so that many people will able to say, together with the French artist Niki de Saint Phalle:
,I embrace art as a salvation and a necessity'.''
Dr Agata Norek
Translation: Catherine Cormeau)
© Agata Norek, 2015