Project Unbreakable is a breathtaking project led by photographer Grace Brown in which survivors of sexual abuse are photographed holding signs on which are written words and phrases used by their abusers. There are also sections for question and answer about the nature of abuse and overcoming it. The photographed are mostly women. Some are entirely concealed, some stare at the camera defiantly. Whatever they do it is uncomfortable viewing. A recurring comment on the site is that it has reduced a viewer to tears. It is hard to see how you could be human and not be affected.
I remember after the July 7 bombing there was a mini spate of commuters holding up signs saying WE ARE NOT AFRAID. It didn’t feel to me that people who really were unafraid would need to advertise the fact. On a less sinister level Gillian Wearing’s Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say (copied by Volkswagen for an advertising campaign) used the impact of words when connected in unexpected ways to the people holding them to generate surprise, pleasure, intrigue. At Project Unbreakable, everything is necessarily more direct and I don’t feel any of the misgivings I had about the 7/7 boards – the strength required in being able to turn the words of an attacker against the power they held over you is, to me, beyond anything I can imagine. And when you read the words said to a girl who is now thirteen (“Close your eyes, this might hurt a bit”) then any critical response is switched off: you do just want to turn away and cry.
The site is here.