Violence against women – in the arts

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies

Dr Emma Williamson, Senior Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies

Alongside regular media enquiries, my colleagues from the Centre for Gender and Violence Research and I are regularly contacted by artists, writers, and directors asking for guidance on how to appropriately and sensitively represent issues of violence against women. Recent examples include the play Our Glass House by the Common Wealth Theatre Company which dealt with the issue of domestic violence and was set in a real house, on a real street, here in Bristol. This was an innovative play. Through our discussions the production team were put in contact with local service providers and service users to ensure that the play recognised the potential impact on the audience and reflected both the damaging impacts of abuse as well as how victims can, with support, move on to survive and thrive.

Also of recent interest has been the book Stepping into the Sunshine, a poetry diary by Grace Greenwood published by Footsteps Press. This book deals with the often ignored issue of women who have experienced domestic violence and abuse from more than one partner, and challenges stereotypes about the domestic violence victim.

Both of these examples show the desire of artists and publishers to ensure the authenticity of their ideas and representations by engaging with academics who work with the evidence of gendered violence and abuse.

© Isha Mehmood, 2009 AP Fellow

The cost of domestic violence © Isha Mehmood, 2009 AP Fellow

My most recent engagement with the arts came through an enquiry from a playwright who was writing a modern adaptation of the bluebeard story.  This was always a difficult and challenging play, made more so by the playwright’s desire to engage with issues of desire, agency, and culpability. Following a lengthy discussion about the motivations for the play, and following the production in Bristol, I agreed to take part in a question and answer session following the forthcoming performance in the Soho Theatre, London.  This discussion session will directly follow the performance and give the audience, the team responsible for the play, and Dr Hilary Abrahams and I the opportunity to question the representations of violence in the play and the potential wider implications of such. Having already seen the play in Bristol, I have no doubt that this Q&A will raise some very interesting debates about how we explain individual and social responsibilities in relation to abuse in interpersonal relationships.

All of these engagements demonstrate the desire not just of academics to engage with the wider community, but the desire of artists from all areas to understand the evidence which we use to direct policy and change. Myself and Dr. Hilary Abrahams will be attending the Q&A in London on the 17th November and we look forward to reporting back on the discussions on this blog…. so watch this space!

Bluebeard will be showing upstairs at the Soho Theatre from 5 – 17 November at 7 p.m. and 19 November – 1 December at 9.30 p.m. You can join a debate following the performances on 17 November at 7 p.m. and 30 November at 4 p.m.

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