What do you carry with you? What have you left behind? What is precious to you? These are the questions that COMPAS artist Susan Armington asks students as part of her Talking Suitcases project.
Susan recently took her project to a local woman’s shelter, where women of many different backgrounds have sought protection from domestic violence.
Susan began by asking the residents to talk about some of the burdens they carried with them, and what they had left behind when they came to the shelter. Many of the women shared their stories through interpreters — some telling their stories for the first time. Tears fell as they recounted the events that led them to the shelter, and the terrible things they had experienced.
Susan asked the women to create small suitcase-like boxes with items that told their story — one box for their past, and one box for their future. At first, it was difficult to decide what to put in the boxes, but then they begin to take shape. Images of weapons and police cars filled the boxes as women remembered their terror at the hands of their abusers.
“I knelt on the floor and begged him not to kill me.”
“The police came, and I had to decide whether to stay with my abuser or leave my family and everything I knew to go to the shelter with strangers.”
But that was not the end of the class. There was still a suitcase to be made — one that held dreams of the future.
Susan asked the students to make one more suitcase — this time in the shape of a house. She asked them to think about their dreams for the future, and make a house that represented those dreams.
Some of us might make a mansion, or an exotic locale. But these women who had seen so much dreamed of more basic comforts. A good job. A house of their own. A living room where they could share hot chocolate with their children, away from fear and violence.
By sharing these dreams with the group, women were able to connect with each other in a new way.
Women who didn’t speak English practiced telling their stories with an interpreter, something they would need to do in court if they hoped for protection from their abuser.
But perhaps the best part of creating these suitcases it that it gave them a glimpse of a what a brighter, safer future could look like.
Your support helps COMPAS artists like Susan reach women with the healing, transformative power of creative expression.
You can learn more about the talking suitcases project at talkingsuitcases.com