Monday, April 06, 2009

Decision Portrait Series: On Overcoming Childhood Domestic Abuse, Kristine

(Above: Overcoming Childhood Domestic Abuse, Kristine. 25" x 19", unframed. 31" x 25", framed. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Stitched words: I put my stepfather in prison for sexually abusing me for four years; I was only 14 when I pressed charges; I'll never forget; Now I'm stronger. Click on image to enlarge.)

Collaborating with my subjects for this series is very important and extremely rewarding. There is no possibility that I can fully appreciate the life altering significance of some of the personal decisions made. Yet, through heart-felt correspondence, I have been able to stitch and share stories. Kristine's decision was amazing. Sexually abused for four years by her stepfather, she pressed charges at the tender age of fourteen. He went to prison for just eighteen months. Such injustice! I was appalled. This piece could have easily turned into a statement about sexual abuse and/or the court's hideous notion of an adequate sentence after conviction. Collaborating with Kristine, however, kept the portrait properly focused.

(Above: Detail of portrait. Click on image to enlarge.)

This series is about DECISIONS. Kristine and I wrote and talked by telephone. As a result, the piece focuses on Kristine, her powerful strength of character, and her difficult decision. At one point, Kristine reminded me that her choice was right for her....but might not be the right choice for someone else who had experience sexual abuse. This series isn't about "right" and "wrong" is about making a decision! It is about the person who made an important decision. Hence, Kristine, now 40, holds one of her favorite photos of herself at age 12, figure skating. Kristine pressed charges, went to court, and was forced to tell every detail of abuse to a panel of twelve judges, all men. Even if her mother had supported her decision and been with her during court proceedings and trials, Kristine was required to talk to this panel alone. Her choice turned her already dysfunctional family upside down. It also allowed her to start a road to recovery....a road that she has been successfully walking for twenty-six years.

In one of our email messages, Kristine wrote that she'd been very, very upset (understandably so!) by the mere eighteen months her stepfather spent in prison. She said that she needed to be angry....for her recovery. Later, she realized that his time in prison wasn't nearly as important as 1) her need to put him there...even if for only a day and 2) the fact that he became a "marked man"....a convicted sex offender.

(Above: Kristine's portrait before stitching with assorted Curious Creek Fibers threads.)

Kristine has gone on to marriage and adoption of an older teenage daughter! There are so many wonderful things about Kristine that this blog post could just go on and on. Yet, the thing I'd most like to share is the fact that Kristine, always in love with the full rainbow of colors, is an extremely talented fiber artist whose business, Curious Creek Fibers, is as thriving as the threads are beautiful. She actually sent all these gorgeous hand-painted embroidery yarns for me to use! Four are in her portrait....and I've already used others in the portraits I've started since completing this piece. Thank you, Kristine.

One more important thing: Here's a link to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network.


Unknown said...

I do love your strong portraits - they are extraordinary. Your technique, your "eye", your artistic expression - my complements Susan. I look in on your blog now and again and it is always worthwile.
I have inspirational classes for pre-school teatchers and teatchers - how to use textiles/fiber with children in new these classes I mention your art & artblog as an inspiration, how to use fiber ways most of them never seen.
Take care and we´ll perhaps meet again someday (I was at the embroidery symposium in Sweden, august 2008)/Madde (

Chris said...

As always, I love these portraits. I really got excited when I discovered that you were using this persons fiber art products in her portrait. Very cool.

Wanda said...

Wow. I won't reiterate what I say about this series because I've said it several times and you know it. This piece is beautiful. Kristine is beautiful. And yes, I do believe that you kept the focus where it belonged. Without the background info it is a strong piece. With the background info, it's even stronger. We, as viewers, can only imagine what you experience when preparing for a new portrait... all the emotions and feelings and all things to think about.

Anonymous said...

Profound, Susan. Excellent.

lindacreates said...

An extraordinary portrait Susan. It had to be a difficult subject, yet it must be told. What a painful decision Kristine had to make. What a strong young woman she was, and what an incredible woman she is.
I do hope that these Decision Portraits can all be shown. They are so strong and make us all think!