Stran assersby from Manhattan’s Meatpacking County will see something rather atypical on one of the many shop windows at the moment: a group of old-fashioned light bulbs standing next to small printers connected to the internet, each separating an anonymous feed of news stories about surviving stories.
It’s part of a new project by New York public artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, an installation called “We Can Know Our Strength,” that highlights the voices of anonymous survivors of racism and sexual violence. It lasts until May 15.
“Last summer, we experienced a turning point in which young Asian and Pacific islanders came forward with their stories of sexual violence and gender-based violence,” the artist said.
“I wanted to create a space where private grief could still see the light of day for anyone carrying a heavy burden to lay them down; a soothing ritual that lets survivors know that their stories will be held with dignity and respect. “
As protesters gathered across the country in protest of the Asian and Pacific island community, Phingbodhipakkiya wanted to help break the silence. Anyone can visit the artist’s website MayWeKnow.NYC and submit their survival story; either sexual violence or gender-based violence. She performs a ritual in honor of the Asian women recently killed in Atlanta every night at 8 p.m., and viewers can watch the space via a 24-hour live broadcast.
The artwork will grow organically over time, depending on the applications received through the website, which are then printed (there have been 500 applications so far). “Every week I gather piles of anger, hope, sadness, loss and shame and start to involve them in the installation,” Phingbodhipakkiya said.
He uses printed paper as a sculpture or textile, sometimes cutting them and weaving them into wire structures or hanging them from above. They are sometimes placed next to warm-colored lamps, candles, and dried flowers (Phingbodhipakkiya used flowers as a symbol of solidarity and resilience as part of her recent cover of Time magazine, which she also illustrated). It embodies a sense of loneliness and silence.
“So much of this work is a meditation on how we can still flourish and grow after trauma,” she said. “Like the unpredictable nature of healing from trauma, a finished installation can end up being something unexpected.”
Phingbodhipakkiya wanted to pay tribute to six Asian women who were victims of hate crimes in Atlanta, who grew up in the city. “We can’t talk about this tragedy without talking about the deadly intersection of racism and misogyny and how the fetishization and exoticization of Asian women is not some abstract theory,” she said. “It has violent consequences in the real world.”
Every night Phingbodhipakkiya visits the space to dim the bulbs in the installation and write their names: Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Yong Ae Yue, Paul Andre Michels and Delaina Ashley Yaun González. “And all 16 incandescent bulbs glow resolutely in the dark,” she said.
Survivor stories continue to come and every time they are sent via the website, they are printed in real time via one of 16 printers connected to the internet on site.
One story that brought Phingbodhipakkiya to tears reads, “I survived sexual abuse. My older male cousin harassed me when I was 12 years old. This is further complicated by the fact that he is from the AAPI side of my family, so I often struggle to accept that the source of my connection to this wonderful community includes my biggest wound. I want to believe that there is a greater purpose, an opportunity to turn that pain into something creative and healing for others. I still don’t know what it is. But I hope so every day. ”
Phingbodhipakkiya used recycled materials from the city’s Materials for Art program, which allows artists to reuse donated used materials. It includes an old watch, which he claims is in favor of #MeToo and the Time’s Up movement. “It’s also a way to acknowledge Rainn’s astonishing statistics that every 73 seconds someone is sexually assaulted in America,” she said. “That’s why the clock is always set at 7.30, because it’s always time to trust the survivors and support their recovery.”
This project, created in partnership with the local Business Promotion District, is what New York City Culture Commissioner Gonzalo Casals calls “turning too often invisible experiences of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence into something that must be acknowledged and addressed.”
By presenting an exhibition that uses paper, it takes two things: paper can be seen as a material that is easily torn. However, Phingbodhipakkiya still sees it as a symbol of strength and resilience.
“One sheet of paper may be weak, but it grows with each fold, just like us with support, encouragement and resources,” said the artist. “Paper that is folded 100 times is almost impossible to tear, just as horrible are those who stand together in support and witness each other’s stories.”
Phingbodhipakkiya sits on the cold concrete floor and reads the suggestions, rips them off the rolls of paper and works with them. “I physically hold someone’s story in my hands, I don’t take it lightly,” she said. “Every time I bend, fold and twist the paper, I feel like I’m helping to release a long-lasting burden. I find that process incredibly cathartic. “
Each story is used as a glimmer of hope. By weaving stories together, he proves that the survivors are not alone, offering a sense of belonging, if not refuge.
“Art helps us connect with our humanity when we feel it is deprived, it helps us find our strength and courage when we feel we are hurt or silenced,” she said.
“It reminds us that, despite the limitations that society imposes on us, despite the hardships and broken hearts we have suffered from others or under oppressive systems, we are worthy of love, healing and freedom,” she said. “And its multifaceted nature allows us to repair wounds at our own pace and in our own way.”