“It Happened” uncovers the impact of sexual violence from artists’ perspectives

Senior Taylor Bailey: “It is important that a good number of people go and understand the importance. I hope it’s a chain reaction.”
The "It Happened" art exhibit is put together in George Caleb Bingham Gallery, featuring local and national artists who create work on the issue of sexual violence, addressing rape and sexual assault on university campuses, k-12 schools and in communities around the world.

Initially, the George Caleb Bingham Gallery seems to be a quintessential gallery; crisp white walls, shiny wooden floors and a glow that strategically illuminates each piece of artwork. However, the current exhibition has filled the otherwise typical gallery with profound and significant art that highlights a critical national issue — sexual violence.

The exhibition is called “It Happened.” Displayed are poignant pieces, ranging from vibrant watercolor to powerful videos, which visually articulate the impact of sexual assault and rape. “It Happened” creates a unique forum where people can mentally and emotionally react to the impacts of sexual violence.

Katina Bitsicas, exhibition curator and interim director of digital storytelling, believes that the exhibition humanizes the reality of sexual assault.

“It’s much more effective for change to put out someone’s emotions and soul visually,” Bitsicas said.

Bitsicas and Community Arts Specialist Lee Ann Woolery worked together in curating “It Happened.” The two came up with the idea over a year ago after discussing how, to their knowledge, there had never been an exhibition about sexual assault on MU’s campus. Not only did both curate the exhibition, they both have pieces on display.

“It was a long process,” Bitsicas said. “Back in November we began contacting artists. We wanted a good variety — male and female, which is important to show sexual assault can happen to anyone. There’s large age range … and a diverse group of artists.”

The inclusivity of artists mirrors the statistics. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Regarding age, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that 54 percent of victims of sexual assault are between the ages 18 to 34 and 28 percent are between ages 35 to 64. Though sexual assault occurs among all races, Native Americans are at the highest risk for sexual violence, with a rate “twice as likely to experience a rape/sexual assault compared to all races,” according to RAINN.

But the exhibit’s purpose is to make sexual assault and rape more than percentages on a page through artwork created by local and national artists.

Taylor Bailey, senior communication and digital storytelling major, was a student in Bitsicas’ class when Bitsicas asked if her video could be displayed in the exhibition; Bailey readily accepted.

Bailey’s piece was shot through the victim's perspective, which she explains was a different approach but also important to do.

“I felt honored being asked for my piece to be part of the exhibition,” Bailey said. “I felt I was helping make an impact. I believe it is important for everyone to care about.”

She notes the experience as powerful and wants exhibition viewers to know the truth about sexual assault.

“It is important that a good number of people go and understand the importance. I hope it’s a chain reaction,” Bailey said.

According to the website, the curators’ intent for the exhibition is to act as a catalyst for conversation and to bring awareness to perspectives on sexual violence with the purpose to prevent these behaviors. Bitsicas’ main hope for the exhibition is that students simply take time to visit.

“If it provides some sort of comfort to one survivor that they aren’t alone, if it changes one person's mentality about rape culture, then that is enough for me,” Bitsicas said.

In addition to the exhibition, there is a supplemental curator tour, where Bitsicas and Woolery will speak further on their bodies of work. Following the tour will be a sponsor talk featuring the representatives from the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center and Photovoice Missouri, a campaign that encourages teenage students to advocate for positive change in their local communities.

The exhibition is open to view Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Sept. 21. The curator tour will take place Sept. 13 from 4 to 5 p.m. in the George Caleb Bingham Gallery. The sponsor talk is scheduled later that evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will take place in the Allen Auditorium. During the curator tour and the sponsor talk, the RSVP Center will have support services available.

Edited by Brooke Collier | bcollier@themaneater.com

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