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Stepping Right Into the Light

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UC Irvine’s Right to KNOW peer educators collaborated with the student art group Catalyst to create an exhibit titled “We Step Into The Light.” The exhibit was featured in the Student Center lobby outside Crystal Cove Auditorium from April 25-27. In addition, Right to KNOW and Catalyst presented the gallery from 6-9 p.m. on April 26.

About 30-40 people attended the event, which featured a talk from Dr. Desmonette Hazly, creator of “We Step Into The Light,” that outlined the purpose of the exhibit. After being sexually assaulted, Hazly sought to find constructive means to overcome the trauma she experienced.

“My words tonight will be very brief because I don’t think they can match the eloquence of what you will see tonight,” she said. “All of you here are helping other people find their light. [Survivors] see darkness everywhere they look, even when the sun is shining. When I started ‘We Step Into The Light,’ it was because I was tired. Surviving in a daily context is the bare minimum [of existence]. I don’t think that anyone deserves that.”

The exhibit sought to distinguish between surviving and thriving, and placed emphasis on getting victims of sexual assault to thrive rather than survive. In her opening comments, Dr. Hazly expanded on the idea of surviving, explaining that to survive is to scrape by, barely making it through life. In order to thrive, victims of sexual assault have to find healing so that they can embrace themselves again.

The process is more than “moving on” or “living with what happened.” Instead, it allows the victim to truly live again. The artwork featured at ‘We Move Into The Light’ highlighted each victim’s story, immortalizing all aspects of the victim’s story — the pain, the pleasure, the joy, the sorrow and the entirety of life.

To create the artwork, artists from Catalyst were paired with a survivor of sexual assault. The artists listened to the survivor’s testimony and were free to use any art medium to capture the entirety of that survivor’s person and story. The exhibit reflected the plurality of each person’s experience. Photography and sculptures were featured alongside paintings.

The individual works also reflected this plurality. One sculpture was particularly dynamic. The work incorporated a plastic cup filled with water that dripped down through a hole among a tangled web of interlocking strings. An enlarged photograph depicting a female victim sitting in the shade of a building, was also featured prominently in the exhibit. Rays of sun shone through a gap in the columns throwing back the darkness that threatened the victim.

“Creativity is truly the voice of those who cannot hear us,” Hazly said. “You find your power, strength and courage as a thriver. When was the last time that you asked some one what makes you beautiful. You should start asking yourself.”

Dr. Hazly holds a doctorate in international politics and policy and a master’s degree in social work and international studies. She has been affiliated with various organizations, most significantly as a volunteer with International Services at the Red Cross Los Angeles region for 15 years.

Catalyst was created four years ago through the collaboration between UCI’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts faculty and studio art undergraduate students in order to provide a space to learn outside the classroom. The organization is entirely student-run and combines a project space and art gallery with a pedagogic platform. Catalyst features exhibitions, workshops, peer critiques, lectures and field trips. Most importantly, however, it seeks to break down the barriers that stratify UCI through artwork and outreach efforts.

Right to KNOW operates through UCI’s Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) office on a similar principle by raising awareness of sexual assault in the campus community through their various events and interactive workshops.

“I think that art is one of the few areas of expression that transcends all barriers,” Dr. Hazly said. “[Art] is an expression of our dreams and aspirations that speaks to our individuality. That’s the power of art.”