- Published on Wednesday, 24 October 2012 16:12
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
A new photo exhibit that captures the voices of domestic abuse is on display through Nov. 2 at the Health Sciences and Nursing Building.
The Photovoice project, Voices and Images: Migrant Women, Domestic Violence, Sexual and Reproductive Health, is organized by the College of Health Sciences and features snapshots from 22 migrant women who used disposable cameras to document their stories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
The amateur photographers snapped photos of their children, their neighborhoods, and situations that helped to illustrate their stories. One survivor photographed pink violets she housed in a glass case to signify what she called the “invisible cage” that is intimate partner violence.
“They shared images of their experiences with domestic violence and really shared with us how power, oppression and violence is manifested, how it impacts the quality of life not only of them, but of their children and their community, and what recommendations they have for policy and decision makers,” said Assistant Social Work Professor Eva Moya, Ph.D., the project’s leader, during the exhibit’s opening reception on Oct. 15 at the UTEP Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens.
Photovoice is a method where people who are affected by certain conditions, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, use disposable cameras to document their quality of life, with the hope to bring about positive social change. Participants eschewed digital photography for film to keep the images from being altered. The images are accompanied by short narratives that describe the women’s feelings about the photos.
“I share these stories because they come from personal experience,” Maria Avitia said in Spanish. She separated from her husband six months ago after he abused her for more than a year. “I know that they are out there – women and men – who are going to identify with my story because it is not only my story; it is other people’s story.”
Participants ranged in age from 17 to 72 years old and were recruited from the Diocesan Migrant Refugee Services, Familias Triunfadoras in San Elizario and from the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Ventanillas de Salud. They included homemakers, professionals, students, service industry employees and volunteer health workers. Out of the 22 participants, only three have some type of health insurance.
The women were organized into two groups that met for five weeks over the summer with the project’s facilitators.
Photos from both groups were used to create one gallery that represented their common journey of survival, migration and hope, Moya said.
Norma Martinez left her husband six years ago after enduring 10 years of emotional and verbal abuse. For Martinez, a UTEP graduate who earned her bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering 20 years ago, Photovoice was a form of therapy.
Martinez captured photos that best represented her feelings while she was married. A photo of a piece of tissue in a toilet bowl expressed how her ex-husband’s words made her feel as she sat alone in her bedroom after one of his tirades.
“The bathroom door was open and I saw the toilet and thought, ‘Why can’t I be a piece of paper that I can flush and everything can end and I don’t have to worry about anything?’” Martinez recalled.
After she saw how her three children were being affected by the abuse, she left.
“When people see the photo, I want them to understand that beatings aren’t the only things that leave scars,” said Martinez, who is working on her Master of Education at UTEP. “There are words that mark you. You can’t see them, but they follow you.”
The exhibit is made possible by a $4,000 Community and Academic Partnership mini-grant that Moya and Silvia Chavez Baray, Ph.D., a lecturer in the social work department, received from the College of Health Sciences in 2012. The idea for the project sprung from Moya’s study on “The Sexual and Reproductive Health of Mexican Migrant Women in Ciudad Juárez, Guadalajara, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas,” that she launched in March.
While she interviewed women in El Paso about their reproductive and sexual health, she noticed that the issue of domestic violence kept surfacing.
“It is very important to ask what can happen to directly affect violent conditions to help us understand what that experience was like,” Moya said.
Moya decided to use Photovoice as a tool to empower women affected by domestic abuse and prepare them to become advocates for social justice.
In June, she trained 16 colleagues and students as facilitators in the Photovoice method. In turn, some of the participants helped train the women for the Voices and Images project.
Daniel Silvadoray, a master of social work student, interviewed some of the participants for a video that accompanies the exhibit.
“I listened to all their stories, which taught me that anyone can be a victim of domestic violence; either men or women of any socioeconomic status and/or educational level,” he said. “Not only does it affect the women (or men), but also it affects the whole family.”
An integral part of the exhibit is a call to action developed by the participants to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual and reproductive health, and encourage support from leaders and policymakers.
“As a Photovoice member, I can tell you that we need to take action on domestic abuse,” said Berenice Torres. “We need to increase the visibility of people affected by domestic abuse – physical, emotional, sexual – it affects everybody, not just the person who is hurt.”
Moya presented the Voices and Images project at the Maya Angelou International Women's Health Summit in September. The exhibit also was part of the Binational Health Week inaugural ceremonies in Oaxaca, Mexico on Oct. 1.
Voices and Images is currently located on the second and third floors of the HSN Building. College of Health Sciences Dean Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., said that the 4,000 students who walk through the building daily will be able to appreciate the exhibit.
“It really speaks to the power of the women who are involved in telling their stories,” Curtis told participants at the reception. “I want to acknowledge their courage and persistence in doing so.”
Jacob Prado, Mexico Consul General in El Paso, congratulated the women at the opening for their bravery.
“[The exhibit] is a very useful tool to raise awareness to a problem that is persistent in our communities,” he said.
Rosana Lopez, a Master of Social Work student, said the images are an example of how well victims hide their abuse.
“I thought it was very moving that they allowed us to look into their lives and share that with us in order to create change,” she said.
Avitia, whose photos include one of an alley that she used as a safe passage to hide from her husband when she walked to and from work, said she feels stronger now.
“This project helped me because I know that I’m not alone, and perhaps with our voices and images, we can help other women know that they’re not alone either,” she said. “That is my message to them.”
To see photos from the Voices and Images exhibit, click here.