T-shirts raise awareness about violence against women

(Featured photo: Michaela Jones stands next to some of the T-shirts created through the Augusta VA’s Clothesline Project)

The T-shirts tell stories.

“Seeing the shirts on display, I don’t know how to describe it,” said Michaela Jones, art therapist at the Augusta VA Medical Center about the Clothesline Project. “It’s really quiet when people are looking at the shirts and taking in what the shirts are saying. It’s powerful.”

Female veterans as well as civilian staffers at the hospital started creating the shirts in January  for display in April at both the uptown and downtown divisions. Women who’ve been personally affected by violence or have known someone who has suffered violence create the shirts as a way to speak and heal, she said.

The unadorned shirts provide the framework for the story. The colors give clues. Among them are white for women who’ve died by violence; red, pink and orange for women who’ve encountered rape or childhood sexual assault; and brown or gray for survivors of emotional, spiritual or verbal abuse.

Once a shirt has been selected, the process begins of sharing more details.

Some take scissors and cut holes in the shirt, while others write their feelings on it.

Jones said one woman made a mask to go along with her shirt. On the forehead, she wrote “I’m ok,” but then she covered the mouth with black tape because she said she felt trapped and that she had no voice.

“With this project, I’ve been told by veterans and staff that leaving the project they feel like a weight was lifted. It was an opportunity to allow their voice to be heard in a creative way by decorating a T-shirt,” she said.

The Clothesline Project is a national initiative designed to bring awareness to issues of violence against women.

“The first Clothesline Project originated in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in 1990 when a member of the Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda learned that during the same time 58,000 soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War, 51,000 U.S. women were killed by the men who claimed to love them,” according to the Clothesline Project website.

Jones said she wants to bring awareness by implementing the project and provide help. When the shirts are displayed, she provides information and resources to assist women.

When the T-shirts are taken down, they can be reclaimed by the person who made them, or they can be a permanent part of the display.

“The past two years, women have come back and repeated doing the shirts. It’s a safe space to come and express themselves without judgement and leave that behind when they go,” she said.

Jones knows the power art has to heal inner wounds. She works with veterans on a daily basis to help provide a way to release stress, anxiety and trauma.

“Art therapy is a creative and non-verbal form of communication which can promote insights and look at unresolved issues helping with self-esteem and self-worth,” she said.

The National Domestic Violence hotline is available 24 hours a day at (800) 799-7233.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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