I'd like to embark on an art project, visually reclaiming the clothing
described by women who responded to your simple query on Twitter in
March, asking what were they wearing when they were sexually assaulted.
I'd like to revisit those tweets and paint women figures wearing the
clothes described. I would paint them in poses of healing, strength,
contentment, and balance.
If you're wondering the impetus for the project, it stems from a desire to
heal women through visual art. I have a genetic lymphatic condition.
It's chronic, requires daily self care, and occasionally makes me feel
depressed. I recently completed a small painting that, to my mind,
depicts a woman with a healthy balanced lymph system, and just looking
at it encourages me so much. I can share the image if you are interested
(it is a nude female figure).
My reaction to the lymph system painting (and others' reactions) was so
strong and positive. Somehow, looking at it conveys to the viewer a
sense of peace and healing. I meditated on strength, healing and balance
as I sketched it, and the final effect of the work seems "bigger than
me" and my painting abilities, if that makes sense. I want to do more of
them. But creating such paintings only to heal myself feels almost
selfish in a way, and I started to think of other images that
could heal women, specifically black women. I don’t know why, but the
tweets you received in March immediately came to mind. Perhaps it's because of the
visual impact of clothing. Presentation of self is so important to
women, and these clothing items (items that the women/girls chose to
wear on the day of their assault) have been snatched from their use and
made into emotional triggers.
A few specifics:
All of the women figures in the painting series would be clothed. First, because of the nature of their violation—I would never want to re-victimize them in a painting; and second, because it is important that the clothing be included in the
compositions. My hope is that through my paintings, I can help the
survivors associate the clothing items with a positive image—to
eventually reduce the amount of triggering they'll experience in the
world. My hope would be that when they encounter those clothing items,
their minds can recall my painting, instead of their assault, or that
the image of the painting can soothe them through thoughts of their
The paintings would not be exact portraits. I don't want to violate the
tweeters' privacy by including their specific physical details. I would
attempt to depict the skin tone of each woman, as forefronting brown
women's bodies is important in my work, and many of the clothing
responses came from many women of color (though the
painting series would not be limited to clothing responses from women
of color). I would use the women's Twitter avatars as inspiration for
the figures looks in some cases—but not exact portraits.
Because of the nature of the project, it is extremely important to me that I
seek your consent. You were the conduit for these terrible memories, and
I know you have a strong desire to protect these women and their
stories. If you don’t think I should do this, I will not do it.
I do not intend to sell these images or profit from them in any way—though
if I do paint them, I would love to display them in a place where women
can view and find healing through them. If shown, I would always
provide contextual information with the images, explaining your original
question and the nature of the responding tweets. I would also give you
editorial "veto power" on the initial draft of the contextual display
The style and form of the paintings would be similar to my lymph system painting.
They would be smallish (8" x 10") acrylic works on paper. The
composition of each image would include a single woman figure, wearing
the clothes she wore during her assault, and surrounded by rays of
healing light. My goal would be to complete a large number of small paintings, and to
display them as a group (perhaps in a grid-like pattern), so that the
effect to the viewer is one of a large group of figures, symbolizing
that these women are not alone. It would be a visual display of
I would not use the tweeters' names or Twitter handles.
I would defer to your judgement on whether I should seek consent from
individual tweeters. My first thought was that yes, I should do so, but I
worry that doing so will bring the assaults to their minds once again,
re-victimizing them before I have completed healing images to share with
I know a painting can't erase an assault, but if I can facilitate
any degree of healing for these women, I would be honored to so. I look
forward to learning your thoughts on the project, and please let me know
if you’d like further info or clarification about any of my ideas (or
Melanie Spears Harper
I drafted this proposal letter yesterday before viewing your Twitter
profile, and I had no idea you'd posed a question re: clothing and
police brutality (I’ve been unplugged at an artists' retreat in NC for
the past week and up until about 9pm last night). That means you posed
the new question on the same day and around the same time that I
imagined this painting series based on your first. Crazy.
I did not attach a photo of my lymph system painting to the letter, but here it is below. It's ironic that the Clothing Reclamation Project should start with a painting of a nude figure. Or...maybe that's fitting.