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Art by domestic violence victims too offensive for Province House 

Banners for the Until the Violence Stops festival are inappropriate for tourists, says official

Citing offensive language, an official at Province House refused to allow several banners created as part of a therapeutic art project by victims of domestic violence to be displayed in the building.

“Some of the wording, considering we are a mixed venue, would probably be inappropriate for the age---you have kids come in, you don’t want them to see some of the words that would be on them,” says Peter Theriault, coordinator of operations at Province House. “We do have tourists coming in; we do have school kids coming in at this time of year for tours.”

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The banners were created by children and women who have been in abusive relationships and are now participating in the Healing the Bruises Program associated with Alice Housing, which provides housing for women fleeing domestic violence.

“It takes four to six weeks to actually complete one of these,” explains Lori Morgan, child/youth counsellor at Alice Housing. “It’s an opportunity for the children to express themselves---what happened to them while living in a violent and abusive environment. These words are what the children and women experienced while living with their abusers, and how they felt, what happened to them.” That process of recognition and validating is the first step toward healing, she says. By naming the facts of their abuse and expressing themselves in a safe environment, explains Morgan, the children can feel empowered and “let go of the shame that is attached to abuse.”

The writing on the banners can be heartbreaking. One created by a 10-year-old has a series of phrases or single words describing the abuse witnessed, including: “Be quiet. Push mom. Scared. Cried a lot.”

A banner created by an 11-year-old reads in part: “Hit me with a belt, spatula, hand. Saw a gun in the house. Hit me everywhere. Threaten to burn down the house. Smack me. Beat me. Choked mom.”

One mother also created a banner, split in two sides, explaining her world before and after going through the program. On the left side is the horrific reality of abuse: “He beat me in front of my little girl. Rape Drugs. Pain. Fuck U games. Scared to death. He took my right to choose away.” On the right side comes healing: “I love life. Best two kids. Proud of self. Freedom. Peace. Family. I have choices.”

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Some of the descriptions of abuse include words deemed inappropriate by Theriault, including “bitch,” “fuck,” and the n-word.

But Morgan maintains that those words are part of reality that should be discussed publicly. “These kids have a right to be heard,” she says.

“If I see a sixth grader coming in to see this, I think, wow, what a great teachable moment. When a child says, ‘What is this? Why is this?’ Or maybe a child says, ‘Oh my gosh, I understand, let me grab one of these parents---I’m going through this, or I have a friend who’s going through this, who is being abused.’ So it’s a teachable moment. It’s not a scary moment for the cruise people, the elderly people or the children in Grade Six---these kids aren’t even in Grade Six.”

Until the Violence Stops Festival

The banners were part of a larger display that included masks and scarves created by victims of violence, and including posters promoting the service agencies addressing violence against women. The display was to be placed in the south foyer of the ground floor of Province House, which hosts the photos of all of Nova Scotia’s premiers. The permanent Joseph Howe exhibit is in a room entered through the foyer.

The work was to be displayed at Province House at the request of MLA Diana Whelan, who was on the campaign trail and could not be reached for this article.

The display was intended to kick off the Until the Violence Stops Festival, which is part of the V-Day Campaign, an international movement to stop violence against women and girls. The V-Day Campaign is funded with money raised by performances of The Vagina Monologues.

(For other Until the Violence Stops festival events, click here.)

But as the Province House display was going up Friday, Theriault raised objections to the language on the banners, to the manner in which the scarves were hung and to some political cartoons included on the posters.

“Province House is a place of politics,” explains Theriault. “Unfortunately, in an election it’s not.”

The cartoons were directed at the lack of government funding for organizations addressing domestic violence. They did not mention specific provincial political parties or MLAs, although one included a caricature of prime minister Stephen Harper.

Initially, the groups putting up the displays understood that the free-standing scarf display presented safety issues, and agreed to instead place part of the collection of scarves on a table, and to come in and rotate other parts of the collection every few days.

But when Theriault rejected the banners for improper language, the groups decided to remove the rest of the display, including the scarves and posters, as solidarity.

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