Foreign Body by Imogen Butler-Cole
TW: Rape, Sexual Assault
Inside the studio of the Vaults, there was an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy, Imogen was already onstage; part of the setting of her performance Foreign Body, sitting on a chair and surrounded by mirrors. The feeling of intimacy was reminiscent of being in a bedroom with a friend and somebody needs to let off steam. As the room completely filled with excited viewers, I was able to take a closer look at the living portrait in front of me: a beautiful woman on a chair surrounded by mirrors, would she face those mirrors? Did that chair represent more than it showed? Was she sad, worried, empty, full? There it started. Lights illuminated her as a voiceover told of her journey through life and her experiences. She came across as a young woman like many others, actually a fortunate young woman, blessed by a beautiful family, an exciting life, cool travels, great friends.
She was a woman like many others. Strong, beautiful, friendly, happy.
While we heard other stories of violence, she started telling hers. She clarified, sexual violence is not something someone unknowing can expect. There is not always violence or screams or rape as you may believe.
There is no woman in skirt walking near a highway at 3am and there is no drunk violent man ready to attack her. Sexual violence has no principles, has no specific targets or perpetrators. As she specified, in her experience the guy was even kind, there weren’t shouts, nor insults, only the pain of being constricted to be a victim of someone else’s pleasure, a pain that goes beyond a classification, beyond big words, it takes away yourself, your freedom, your soul.
Imogen’s message is revelatory. Why is 2018 being the year of change, the year of endless protests and campaigns led by women for women? Because there is not equality yet and there will not be if the word “equality” is not understood for what it means. Equality is not only the gender pay gap. Equality is being free. It is having the freedom of walking alone without being assaulted with words, the freedom of choice, the freedom of being respected when not giving our consent.
The post-show discussion consisted of an interesting panel discussion on Gender and Sexual violence, with writer and performer Tanaka Mhishi, a male survivor himself. He told his experience of sexual violence and agreed on how much pain and suffering it brings to your life. He specified that the need for comprehension is endless, as well it is the time for healing and strengthening.
There is no big difference in gender when talking about something brutal like sexual violence, but there is in a sense of reaching help and support. Tanaka, in fact, testifies on how essential is the support from the community in the journey to healing and as a male survivor, which is the biggest hurdle he had to get over; being understood and making people understand that sexual violence does not always have a specific target, instead happens to everybody, all ages, genders and characters.
A revelatory performance and afternoon.
© Laura Di Stefano 2018