Tea cup art a visual reminder of domestic violence

| February 26, 2016 | 1 Comment
Lizzie Cleary holds one of the tea cups that will be part of an art installation at first the St. Paul campus and then the Minneapolis campus of St. Catherine University. The cup was made by Cleary, a studio art major, but it was decorated by someone with personal experience of domestic violence. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Lizzie Cleary holds one of the tea cups that will be part of an art installation at first the St. Paul campus and then the Minneapolis campus of St. Catherine University. The cup was made by Cleary, a studio art major, but it was decorated by someone with personal experience of domestic violence. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

 

It isn’t the usual setting for tea.

Ceramic tea cups surround a teapot on three simple black tables in St. Catherine University junior Lizzie Cleary’s art installation.

Rather than matching cups, each is decorated differently, and each expresses the feelings, pain and fears of victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Cleary, a member of St. Cecilia in St. Paul who is a studio art major with a concentration on ceramics, took on the project as part of an every-other-year activity of the Violence and Prevention Collective at St. Catherine, a group from a variety of departments at the university “committed to make sure we are continuing to talk about sexual assault and domestic violence,” Cleary said.

Already active with her mother, Julie Michels, in St. Cecilia’s Domestic Violence Education and Action team, Cleary worked the clay and made the cups in January.

“I see art as more of a process than a product,” Cleary said, “so I wanted people to be more engaged in this work.”

She took the cups in their “leather” form — almost dry but still workable — to discussions with fellow students; with women living at Ascension Place, a shelter in north Minneapolis; and with women involved with Ramsey County’s SOS Sexual Violence Services. After the discussions she invited people to carve into the clay what they wished other people knew about their feelings.

The letters “PTSD” — post-traumatic stress disorder — was common in the carvings. Others inscribed words “Freedom,” “The Night Before,” and “Justice,” with cross-hatched lines of prison bars etched below.

Cleary said one woman expressed herself by smashing the tea cup, then arranging the pieces with the points of fragments facing upward “to show the pain,” Cleary said.

Conversations didn’t go easily at first, she said.

“It was pretty shocking at the beginning,” Cleary said. “I think you can be comfortable talking about these subjects when you haven’t been personally involved, but there it was real. The depth of the conversations was great.

“Hearing those stories, I can’t ignore these issues any more.”

Continuing to keep the issues of sexual assault and domestic violence in conversations around tables is the point of Cleary’s installation.

With the pieces glazed and fired, they’ll be installed in the second-floor atrium in the Coeur de Catherine student center on St. Kate’s St. Paul campus and on display March 6-11, with a reception at 5 p.m. March 10.

The installation will move to Old Main Deli on the school’s Minneapolis campus and on exhibit March 13-16, with a noon reception March 15.

Mary Ellen Briel, a member of St. Cecilia and its Domestic Violence Education and Action team, said the vastness of the issue, which effects people in homes on college campuses and with native people and people of color, can be overwhelming.

“Lizzie has managed to distill aspects of Domestic Abuse and Violence into an affecting art installation,” Briel said. “Her meetings in recent months with advocates in shelters, and being allowed to actually work on the art with women — survivors — who have shared their stories over tea, and then carved messages for others to see, is an extraordinary, revolutionary, idea she’s conceived and brought to life in this art installation.”

Cleary said she chose the tea cups setting because tea can be a comforting beverage. Parishioners at St. Cecilia donated tea bags to be used in cups in the installation, and the tea bags will also be attached to postcards that those who view the installation will be welcome to take as a reminder to carry on the conversations about domestic violence and sexual assault.

“The call to action [of the installation],” Cleary said, “is to talk to people around these topics and to listen to them.”

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Category: Local News

  • Kuatree Dillard

    Great awareness to a needed cause.