Respect as art

3 May 2022
Trigger Warning // This article discusses sexual assault. Please discontinue reading at any time if the content of this article causes you distress. If you would like further support, you can contact the following services:
  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – 24/7
  • UQ Sexual Misconduct Support Unit (3343 1000) Mon – Fri, 8am – 5pm;
  • UQ Counselling and Crisis Line (1300 851 998) – 24/7

Arts and culture, as an Art History student, is an integral part of a thriving community. This is because art is a primary way of expressing emotions in a world that is increasingly reliant on visual media and are straying away from the written word. Art therapy is an alternative way for survivors of sexual assault and harassment to heal and process trauma. Painting was a primary strategy that I used as part of my own recovery following a sexual assault.  I am now a UQ Respect Ambassador, and I have noticed that UQ Respect art activities play a significant part in the learning, health, and wellbeing of UQ students. This is about my personal experience participating in the workshops, and my reflections about symbolism and respect in my pieces.

During these Art for Health and Wellbeing workshops, we were met with the intricate subjects of respect and safety. When participating in these workshops, you are given a theme of either respect or safety. With this theme, you research symbols and sketch out your draft. The exercise is intended to prompt self-reflection which allows you to begin your journey with your piece of art. By the end of the exercise, you should be compiling your research and personal experiences to represent different artistic perspectives on respect and safety.

Respect as Art

As soon as I was given the theme of respect during my first workshop, I knew immediately what I would paint. The timeless myth of Medusa, a sexual assault victim who became a symbol of respect for survivors. By expressing the value of respect through Medusa – a woman who was raped, demonised, and beheaded by a patriarchal society – I hoped to open a conversation about mental health, wellbeing, and sexual assault. To me, Medusa’s story restores the voices of survivors. The workshop, along with this article, provides me with the opportunity to continue this important conversation. Indeed, such has been the immense value of the UQ Respect program.

As a sexual assault survivor, it was essential to me to portray my Medusa painting as the strong, reliable symbol that I see her as. I wanted to share the message that you, as a survivor, are worthy and deserve the respect that was not given to Medusa for centuries, the respect survivors are beginning to receive.

This theme is reflected in the way UQ Respect operates by raising awareness for sexual assault survivors, providing support, and educating others about respect and sexual misconduct. UQ Respect’s primary purpose is to create a safe and inclusive campus for all UQ community members, create awareness and change about sexual misconduct on campus, and the Sexual Misconduct Support Unit assist those who have been sexually assaulted and support people through the journey of healing.


Safety as Art

After my first UQ Respect workshop, I had the pleasure of volunteering for another. It became a lot easier to search within myself and express how I saw these themes through symbols and art following my first workshop experience.

During this workshop I was given the theme of safety. Initially it was a challenge to come up with a concept that I related to. However, I was reminded by what made me feel safe despite my past negative experiences. My partner, who was born in the year of the tiger, stands by my side, as strong and fierce as his zodiac.

The tiger is known as the purger of evil, a commander of respect and a symbol of strength even in times of trouble. This is the message of safety that I wished to portray through my supportive partner, symbolised as a great tiger.

Again, UQ Respect promotes both themes of safety and respect through their support, report and educate framework. UQ Respect is a vital part of UQ’s arts and culture. It provides opportunities for students like me to lead and experience art workshops; reflect and understand how I process emotions; and spread awareness about safety, consent, and respect.

My two UQ Respect Art pieces for the wellbeing puzzle pieces will be displayed on campus in the future. I implore you to keep your eyes out for these symbolic works around campus throughout the year (as I have only touched the surface of what has been done at these workshops), and to attend UQ Respect art workshops when you get the opportunity.

Please visit the UQ Respect website for more information about this wonderful community, to get involved, and to get support.