When my art practice was in a slump in 2016, I attended the Women’s Art Institute at St. Catherine University to get me back on my creative path. This artist’s intensive for women asks students to dig deep to find what is meaningful to them, then journal and create art on the subjects that matter most.
There were two clear paths for me to explore. One was the complicated relationship I had with my mother, who had just relocated from New York to a memory care unit near my home. The other was how a singular act of sexual abuse, by a trusted teacher when I was 15, colored and affected my life and relationships.
During the journaling process, I discovered I still carried suppressed anger towards my molester — decades later — and also grief for my loss of innocence. I was left wondering how this impacted my journey.
I wrote out a manifesto of what I wanted to say to my abuser. I embroidered it, as a creative act. This was an intimate expression of the anger, but not big enough, nor bold enough, to express how I felt.
I began creating a sculpture. I envisioned the art would be bound in rope, expressing my secrecy and shame. I tried dark velvets, which were too seductive, and shades of pink satins, which were too prissy.
After many iterations I found yardage of a bright floral pattern, like a young woman might wear, on a black background — a perfect juxtaposition of strength and innocence. It became a sculpture titled Object of My Desire.
My exploration on the theme of sexual abuse continued for the next year. In my studio for Art-a-Whirl 2017, I displayed sculptures, a painting, and an installation of floating shapes, that represented feelings and emotions linked to the memories of my abuse. My artist’s statement alluded to the abuse without stating the details.
Sharing and expressing my trauma through art, I made a surprising discovery. My art engaged and inspired others to share their stories of trauma and abuse.
The silence and secrecy of our collective trauma weighs heavily on society. What I had not expected was the number of people, some strangers and some friends, who were compelled to share their own stories with me after they saw my work.
I learned very personally how many women have a story of their own.
I also learned, in a most intimate and trusting way, that making deeply meaningful art moved others in ways I never anticipated. By sharing my story through art, I opened an avenue for others to tell theirs.
Thanks to a 2018 Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, I expanded my body of work, which was exhibited at Hopkins Center for the Arts in November.
To continue the dialogue of this shared experience, I created stitching events in the gallery, and offered a questionnaire. I received 15 written responses from women, many of whom had also been the victims of abuse. One person wrote: “I feel a sense of release. The juxtaposition of the color, the lush fabric wrapped around itself, tied in cords, is a feeling I am familiar with and have trouble articulating with words.”
Originally, I thought my art was helping me heal my personal trauma. After sharing my work in the community, I have tapped into something bigger than myself. I’m opening a conversation with women who have traumas in need of healing — and opening the possibility of knowing that we are not alone.
Marjorie Fedyszyn is an artist/educator living in Minneapolis. Primarily a sculptor with roots in fiber art, her studio practice is in the Casket Arts Building in NE Minneapolis. She brings fiber arts to homeless youth, at YouthLink, for fun and relaxation — hand stitching is a calming exercise that helps with focus.
Needs to Enhance Trauma-Informed Community
A Compendium of Voices: Abuse, Assault, Advocacy
The Dance of Trust
Healing Sexual Violence With Body Movement
MWP Conversations: Report from “Healing in Community”
Healing in Community