BY SABINE BRIX
Originally published at Archer Magazine.
In late 2014 Australian-based photographer Maya Sugiharto and her partner Aviva Minc began to notice the lack of mainstream media attention dedicated to domestic and family violence within the LGBTIQ community.
“There has been a huge amount of imagery and campaigns over recent years depicting heterosexual relationships where the man is the abuser,” Sugiharto says, “however there was no representation of this happening within my own community, and I began to question why”.
It was this curiosity that inspired Sugiharto to probe further, and the result is HIDDEN – a stirring conceptual photography project of poignant images that captures participants re-enacting situations perceived to emanate real-life scenarios of violence in LGBTIQ relationships.
The concepts and scenarios staged in the photos were inspired by conversations with the participants in the project, of stories they had heard, or things they themselves had experienced, and research conducted by Sugiharto and Minc. Not all participants had necessarily experienced domestic and family violence themselves.
Artist Carly-Anne Kenneally was a HIDDEN participant and played an aggressor during the shoot. She acknowledges how being involved in the project allowed her to recognize patterns of domestic and family violence within her own relationships.
“I wasn't aware of domestic violence within the queer community until we started talking about it,” Kenneally notes.
“I started looking at current and previous relationships of both myself and my friends and there were situations whereby if it would have been a heterosexual relationship, it would have been classed as domestic violence.”
It wasn’t until HIDDEN’s creators begun this dialogue with members of the wider queer community that it became evident how little people knew about the issue.
Maya Sugiharto says:
“We knew that domestic and family violence existed within the LGBTIQ community but it wasn’t until we had conversations with other people – and as the project progressed – that we learned that people both within and outside of the community had no idea it was happening.”
Aviva Minc, HIDDEN’s co-producer, has experienced first-hand the debilitating effects of violence and abuse and wanted to use her experience to further push the issue into the spotlight.
“As a lesbian within the LGBTIQ community, and someone who has experienced manipulative emotional abuse, I felt it would be really powerful to be able to speak the stories of many through a photography project such as this,” Minc asserts.
The photographs are intended to capture the breadth of emotions and situations experienced by both aggressors and victims in a same sex couple. Sugiharto notes the importance of also focusing on the damage emotional abuse can cause in a relationship.
“Domestic and family violence is not the obvious physical abuse that you see represented in a lot of media or movies,” Sugiharto says.
“It can very well be emotional and highly manipulative. So we wanted to make sure that we represented the various forms of domestic and family violence within the LGBTIQ community as best as we could, by showing all of it - the antagonistic, emotional, push and pull, how the mood can change quickly, and the feelings of loneliness, confusion, pain, isolation and anger.”
With such a sensitive subject matter, the producers made sure that precautionary measures were taken before the shoot to ensure participants understood the concept the photographer hoped to create. Support networks were also discussed in case emotions were triggered.
A common theme that arose was the perceived difficulty victims faced in identifying that the behavior they were experiencing was actually abuse.
“Through talking with our participants, we learnt that often, you question yourself for so long, thinking that it’s you and what is happening is ‘normal’. This is most likely because there is no way of identifying with anything that looks like ‘us’ that we see on television or the big screen.”
Carly-Anne Kenneally agrees.
“HIDDEN opened my eyes as to how we define domestic violence and the way in which manipulation and power can be just as damaging as physical abuse.
“By visually raising awareness of domestic violence in the queer community, I hope that the person affected in the situation realizes they’re not alone.”
Kenneally also hopes that the images invoke change in the assailant’s behavior.
“I do believe the aggressor doesn’t always comprehend the impact they are having on the other person. The real change will occur if they see these photos or hear a conversation concerning this issue and decide to alter their behavior.”
The project has been successful for Sugiharto and Minc; exhibiting at Counihan Gallery in Melbourne as part of the Moreland Summer Show and garnering support throughout the wider LGBTIQ community. Importantly, it’s starting conversations for those who need it most.
“We’ve had people on social media – a lot of men in gay relationships – speak out about their own personal experiences,” Sugiharto offers. “We’ve also been approached by some domestic violence organizations that have loved the HIDDEN Photography Project and subsequently begun discussions about other projects on the topic.”
Sheena Boys also took part in the project and explains how significant the work is in drawing attention to the various complexities and nuances that domestic and family violence can take.
“There are so many levels of violence and, from experience, sometimes it takes time to realize you are in an unhealthy situation,” Boys says.
“HIDDEN will hopefully ignite questions within those who view the photography and read the dialogue. Talking to someone is the first step to getting help and raising awareness is key to making change.”
Some of the images in HIDDEN may trigger emotional responses from viewers. To view the work visit: http://www.mayasugiharto.com/#!/index/G0000ngT44ruybbM
If you, or someone you know, is being affected by domestic and family violence contact the LGBT Hotline.
Sabine Brix is an Australian-based writer, editor and composer and the online Content Producer at Archer Magazine. Her music will be featured on forthcoming seasons of the award-winning lesbian web series Starting From…Now! In her spare time she enjoys Instagramming cats and trying to stay alive on a skateboard.