We don’t often reflect on what life looks like for people who lost a loved one to violent crime. This perspective is what Victim Support Scotland set out to share through their exhibition HUSH – Breaking the Silence.
For the exhibition, families connected with the Support for Families Bereaved through Crime service (SFBC for short) at Victim Support Scotland used participatory art methods to express their voice and experiences in the aftermath of the murder of a loved one.
The CSE Aware team had the opportunity to visit this one-off exhibition and below we share our impressions:
On a spring day, I attended the exhibition set up in a venue tucked away in Glasgow’s East End. Upon entering, my initial reflection was the little focus there is on the aftermath of a murder and what this unbelievable event brings to the families of the victim. Many times, the attention is on the criminal process of investigating and finding the criminal.
However, to me this exhibition honed into two things that are often overlooked when it comes to violent crime: the trauma and the grief, and how these can become even deeper whilst going through the lengthy criminal justice process. The trauma of not just the sudden loss of a loved one, but the harsh reality of the other practicalities that some of the families in this exhibition had to take care of: cleaning the crime scene, funeral arrangements, debt, stigma, the continued violence from the murderers, and the injustice they faced in their justice process.
One of the most impactful pieces for me were the audios. Hearing the voices of family members explaining in their own words how they experienced the aftermath of losing their loved one, but also the strength they had to build around themselves in order to keep going. One of the audios was a song composed by young man who lost his mother to murder. The lyrics convey not just the sense of loss that was replaced by an immediate sense of responsibility over his siblings, but the great admiration and deep love he had for his mother.
It was refreshing to see the families’ point of view, their memories, fears, the consequences they bear today and their hopes to move on from this experience in some way. Our host Alice explained just how important it was for the families in this project to meet and find not only understanding but also to build community.
Through recorded conversations, photography and music, HUSH revealed the suffering, the multitude of emotions, and a profound sense of injustice for the family members of murder victims – collectively creating an emotional, powerful, and an eye-opening project.
Whilst each of the participant’s story has touched me, it was the shared theme of the flawed criminal justice system and how families had navigated it that struck me the most. In one way or another, the grief of those families was compounded by systemic failings – be it the treatment by the police or the court staff, an unfair process or the Not Proven verdict.
In all it felt like the families were left powerless at some stage; yet, they resisted giving up. They summoned the courage to share their story – authentically and unapologetically. Some continue fighting for justice – for their families and our society.
To each participant of the project – thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities and exposing the cracks in the justice system.
I was delighted to get the chance to see the HUSH exhibition, particularly as it was influenced and inspired by Inside Outside, a project which featured the voices of women involved in selling or exchanging sex. I also had the chance to support the SFBC team to develop their own approach using the learning and experiences from Inside Outside.
The SFBC families exhibited some beautiful and impactful pieces including a recording of a Victim Impact Statement, a newly written and recorded song, striking photos and images along with installations. The power of the direct voice and creative input from these families was evident and clearly had an impact on and strengthened the emotional connection of those of us who attended.
Sitting listening to families talk, the impact was clear of not only losing a loved one but also being thrust into a system over which they had little control and unfortunately can become an insignificant part in a much larger picture. Having already met some of the families involved in HUSH, I was also reminded of the incredible strength people have to find to manage and deal with traumas.
HUSH made me think of how often the term “lived experience” work is talked about. It means different things to different people but work like HUSH and Inside Outside show that when we expect people to share their experiences and realities for us to learn, then there must be clear benefits for individuals. This may mean it takes longer, is more complex and takes more resources but the investment is worth it for the quality of the whole approach.
I appreciated the openness and honesty of the HUSH families, allowing us an insight in creative and beautiful ways. I’m very proud and pleased that the work of the women in Inside Outside and Outside continues to influence new and emerging work using the power of survivors’ voices to highlight realities and what needs to change.
HUSH will be going on tour later this year so make sure to go and see it in your local area. You can also read the exhibition booklet with the families stories here: https://victimsupport.scot/hush-sfbc
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