Redressing gender violence
Workshops to turn abuse into stories
Workshops to turn abuse into stories
When Una was working on her graphic novel Becoming Unbecoming in 2015, the Weinstein Company was wrapping The Hateful Eight and R Kelly was recording The Buffet. Accusations against Bill Cosby were beginning to circulate. Louis Theroux’s Savile was a year away, the MeToo movement four.
Becoming Unbecoming is a devastating personal account of gender violence against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper manhunt. The book was a cult hit on its release, and has since been studied in schools and universities across the world. That a book set in 1970s Northern England touched so many speaks alarmingly of its continuing relevance.
Seven years later comes Dedicated To All The Others, a collection of ongoing workshops and discussions based on the book, in part funded by Arts Council England (ACE). The project is open to anyone who has experienced gender violence and wishes to share their story, with an aim to heal, educate and challenge.
“The idea is to share creative storytelling surrounding rape, sexual assault and other violent crimes,” says Una, who is artistic director of the project, which will create a collection of sharable resources in the form of stories, plays and podcasts.
Like Becoming Unbecoming, Dedicated To All The Others addresses gender violence in a poetic and metaphorical way – “more like pinpricks in the overall tapestry” of traumatic experience than literal, explicit depictions,” said Una. “People need an outlet to help them discuss experiences like mine because they’re really common – far too common. There’s been a big push to tell these stories in the past few years but until recently, there was a lot of silence. Being able to talk about this openly is all quite new. It feels like we’re toddlers learning a new language, feeling our way.”
The inaugural Dedicated To All The Others group formed in her hometown of Leeds last year and is funded by Leeds Inspired, a creative grants scheme run by the culture programmes team at Leeds City Council. Una describes Dedicated To All The Others as an arts project replicable and “reshapeable” in community groups, and hopes the Leeds collective will prompt other groups to pick it up, whether they’re in nearby Bradford or faraway Brazil.
Mauá in Brazil, in one case. A community theatre is working with Una to perform their adaptation of Dedicated To All The Others and is set to perform its version as a play just outside São Paulo on 8 May. Livestreamed on Zoom with English interpreters and subtitles to reach as broad an audience as possible, the play will be followed by an open discussion with Una, director Felipe Vieira de Galisteo, British and Brazilian guest speakers and the audience,.
“Storytellers are directing actors and other people in the group can chip in, so it creates some emotional distance,” said Una. “I went to Slung Low theatre company in Holbeck with the Leeds group for a closed session. We wrote stories and read them aloud, which was initially difficult, but meant we made loads of improvements to our stories as a result. The group formed an enormous bond through this process. We’re all learning from each other.
“What’s great about Dedicated To All The Others being a project that spans communities is you get a real range of people involved. I’ve had lovely, amazing groups of mixed-ability people from loads of different backgrounds and they’ve made incredible work.”
The ACE-funded contributors include writers Winnie M Li, who was raped in Belfast and wrote a book about it from the rapist’s perspective, and Hilary McCollum. Author Luke Hart, another participant, has told the story about his mother and sister being murdered by their violent father. Other contributors include spoken word artist Masego Lynia and theatre practitioner Tamsin Cook.
Today, Weinstein is serving 23 years in prison and R Kelly is in custody pending sentencing. Prince Andrew settled out of court in February and Cosby’s conviction was overturned last year.
Projects like Dedicated To All The Others are helping to weed out perennial attitudes about gendered violence through collaboration and stories of truth.
“Thousands of abuse victims have been in touch with me and 90 per cent are working on their own stories,” said Una. “We are here to work with you, to help you tell your stories, our stories, their stories.”
Photo: Brazil’s Coletivo Rubra perform Dedicated To All Others