In Silence, Secrets Turn to Lies/Secrets Shared Become Sacred Truth
I created an environment for the performance by hanging a dark red canopy from the ceiling, with dozens of crepe paper streamers hanging from the fabric. On the periphery were several layers of blood red streamers, and on each streamer was written one of the truths that I’d been forbidden to speak.
Don’t say, “No!”
Don’t say, “Please don’t get drunk tonight."
Don’t say, “Daddy, I don’t want to touch your penis.”
I began the piece standing outside this environment. I talked about how for girls, being good is equated with being quiet. I then entered the thicket of streamers, chanting the words written on them, the unspeakable. Inside, I recalled that I did speak out about these events as a child, but wasn’t believed.
That’s when I learned that a good girl said only what others were willing to believe. then I could scarcely tell anymore what was true and what was acceptable.
Moving deeper into the environment, I came to a ring of black streamers, on which were written the lies I’d told myself.
I’m ugly, I’m not angry, no one will ever love me.
These are messages internalized because of abuse. One by one, I ripped down these streamers, claiming the primacy of my own truth. Then I poured a circle of salt—for purification—over the discarded lies. At the very center of the environment was a chair and a music stand on which rested a notebook. I sat then and read a letter to my mother, recounting my recent conversation with her.
I have to remind myself that it is not I
who brings this pain into our lives.
I have to remind myself that ending this silence is a gift
that I give to my life….
As the performance concluded, I invited the audience to enter the space and write their own stories in the notebook, which people did throughout the course of the exhibition. Some people just wrote notes congratulating me on my “courage," but others wrote about their own experience with incest, some in very intimate detail. Some wrote that they’d never told anyone before. One woman confided she hadn’t remembered what happened to her until she came to the exhibit.