Project Title: Different, not less!
by: Mona Simon
Genre: Art Photography
The Dignity Project started as a personal artistic approach to a violent topic, a topic which had made me wonder for many reasons.
While the scars and bruises from the past merge into the skin of the canvas, we may see more than a broken victim’s lost faith or bitter despair from humiliating suffering.
If we listen to the dramatic sadness of each story, while picturing each storyteller in the shades of harmonious golden colours, we may discover beyond their unpleasant painful memories, a different truth of surviving beauty.
— Traditional Cambodian Saying
When imagining a victim of domestic violence we automatically see an image of helplessness and brokenness — we see the stains — even though there is also the picture of humble strength beyond the suffering, a loving responsible mother, obedient wife, all and much more part of the same truth.
The photographs were taken in studios in Phnom Penh, where each of the women was allowed to choose a Khmer dress and get make up and hair done while sharing their stories and opinions. Splendorous photgraphs
in Khmer dresses have become a traditional element for couples and their families when getting married. With a similar photographic approach I hope to create a lasting encourag- ing impression for the participating survivors. They are given an opportunity to share, and also to observe their unique beauty and strength despite of their painful marriage and experiences.
The project aims to show a different perspective to the survivors, the perpetrators, the communities and authorities, and to society, which hopefully grows in its awareness and becomes more caring and responsible towards one another.
Violence destroys trust. Even more so if acted out by abusive family members or systems which are supposed to protect women from harm not cause it. We all deserve caring and respectful attention from our families, communities, society, governments, laws and systems.
Recent stress studies such as by Dr. Yehuda, reveal that children carry their parents’ suffering under their skin. They may be born with a vulnerability expressed in their molecules, neurons, cells, and chemicals attached to genes. Research- ers found that trauma experienced through violence is genetically passed on to coming generations. This shows how important it is for society to feel responsible for preventing more trauma from happening on any level. Neglecting violence against women, wives, mothers and children damages a crucial part of society, who eventually form the future of a national and global human community.
Historic conditioning has created an imbalanced image of the female role in many cultures throughout centuries. Stories mostly written by men as in the case of the Chbab Srey and many other scriptures, especially religious ones like the Bible for example, made people believe for a long time that women deserve less and need to be ruled by men.
“TO THE WOMAN HE SAID, ‘I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOUR PAIN IN CHILD-BEARING; IN PAIN YOU SHALL BRING FORTH CHILDREN YOUR DESIRE SHALL BE FOR YOUR HUSBAND, AND HE SHALL RULE OVER YOU.’”
— Bible, Genesis 3:16
Many powerful teachings like these have formed our ‘natural’ understanding about gender roles in history and continue to impact human society until today. Sadly in some places in our world this thinking is still obvious normality. Saying suffering is for the woman while pleasure and power for the man.
The Artists question is how such a crippling discrimination towards half of humanities population has become possible, through centuries in many parts of the world. Man and woman have been taught to believe the female gender is weak, ignoring that in reality they often had and still have to be stronger than man in many ways.
Isn’t it time to actually address this conditioned understanding, deeply question its consequences and educate respectful values, to correct these damaging messages form the past?
IGNORANCE CREATES SUFFERING — BUDDHA
In the contrasting nature of male and female there is no question, that both are comple- mentary, how can one be more than the other? It seems absurd!
We are obviously for good reasons different, but not less.