The Loud Sky exhibition on display at The Lock-up gallery contains the responses five artists made after listening to the lived stories of survivors of institutionalised child sexual assault.
The ongoing impact of abuse and the passage to life beyond silence and life beyond public inquiries and hearings underlies the work in Loud Sky.
Artist and former Uniting Church minister Rod Pattenden, who has curated Loud Sky, says the Hunter region has been an "epicentre" of instititionalised child sexual abuse. Public attention was first brought to the plight of victims through the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry which opened in 2012.
Pattenden worked in collaboration with Kathleen McPhillips of the University of Newcastle, who attended public hearings and court cases related to the massive numbers of local cases of abuse, including the hearings held by the national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2013 to 2017.
Loud Sky considers the long-term impact of abuse on the thousands of survivors of abuse and also on their families, which extends beyond the bounds of inquiries.
The exhibition is also a celebration of survival, Pattenden says.
"Despite the horror of abuse, these works visualise courage, containing elements of profound and great beauty," he wrote in his essay for the exhibition.
The exhibition's title comes in part from the Loud Fence movement, which began in Ballarat in 2016 and has spread around the world. Ribbons are tied to church fences as statements of protest and they act as visual portals for memory, loss and the celebration of life.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Despite the horror of abuse, these works visualise courage, containing elements of profound and great beauty.- Rod Pattenden, curator of Loud Sky
As part of Loud Sky, thousands of ribbon flowers will be planted in the grounds of Newcastle's Anglican and Catholic cathedrals. The Catholic and Anglican churches of this region were a focus of the Royal Commission.
In recognition of the widespread community trauma impact, the exhibition includes a timeline that traces the history of public awareness of the historic abuse within local organisations. Alongside this is a display of Hunter television news footage documenting the outcomes of public hearings and marking history in wider public knowledge of a horrific reality that had been hidden for too long.
"The hearings were an important part of the wider community coming to terms with the institutional abuse of children," McPhillips says. "During these days, it was as if the whole region stood still and heard these stories of pain."
School photographs of victims are part of the exhibited works, including some photos of those who are no longer living.
Relatives of those who were abused have also been invited to record the impact of institutionalised abuse on their lives.
Artist Lottie Consalvo created a video work with a survivor and his wife that focuses on human gestures to express the processes of contemplation and letting go.
Pattenden calls Consalvo's work a way of finding "a space beyond fear, manipulation, and anxiety, where a human being might thrive".
"The silence of this work speaks with eloquence. It amplifies the beauty of being human," Pattenden writes.
"This is finding a life worth living and being grateful for that, because it is enough."
Artist Peter Gardiner's work is enigmatically realist. His immense painted works of fire possess the duality of horror and hope.
"It is an active vigilance towards justice that arises from a community having been confronted with the truth," Pattenden says.
"No longer is there a tolerance for darkness."
Fiona Lee presents a softer view in her art for Loud Sky, like looking through windows, seeking to reframe questions about life's purpose.
And artist Clare Weeks focused on human memories and the ways they are transferred to objects. "Things we hold dear that become relics or tokens of hope that empower a sense of resilience," Pattenden says.
Participating artist and abuse survivor Elizabeth Seysener says, "I believe that participating in creative activities gives survivors opportunities to put their story outside of themselves, and as a result to better integrate these events into their overall life experience."
Objects also serve as vessels for memory in the fine drawings of Damien Linnane.
Linnane is also a survivor of child abuse, and says for 20 years he "felt like it was this terrible secret that I was ashamed of".
"I have reached the point in my life where I have healed about as much as you can, it's never perfect, but you reach a point where you're comfortable with where things are," he says.
"I have already done enough healing for me, now I want to try to help other people."
- Loud Sky is on at The Lock-Up gallery until May 21.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Join the discussion in the comment section below.