Thinking of You
March 31 - TEDxAUK, Thinking of you, Alketa Xhafa-Mripa
June 19 - Al Jazeera, If Dresses Could Speak
June 12 - Daily Mail, Dresses donated by Rita Ora hang among 5,000 outfits pegged to washing lines for a powerful art exhibition in her home country of Kosovo condemning rape of women during the Balkan War
In 2013, I came across a TV interview, about the survivors of sexual violence in Kosova. I watched a woman, hiding behind a curtain, in the hope of remaining anonymous, sharing her traumatic experience.
She told her story of sexual brutality. I listened to her speak about how the trauma did not just end with this horrific and brutal act as she was not only sexually violated but she was then stigmatized by the society in which she grew up in and loved. She had to live with the fear of embarrassing her family. She was viewed as a woman without honour.
I couldn’t believe that on top of the reality of her horrific ordeal, she was forced to carry around crushing feelings of guilt and shame, bearing a lifelong burden without having ever even committed a crime.
I knew she was not alone, that there were many in the dark, hidden, that remained silent. Many women were encouraged by their families not to speak about the sexual violence they experienced during the war.
Sexual violence still continues to be used as an instrument of war and its victims remain unrecognized and silenced globally.
After having watched that interview, I knew I needed to act, I wanted these women to break their silence. I wanted to fight the stigma. I wanted them to know: “I am ‘Thinking of you’ – you are not alone.”
I wanted to do something that would involve the entire community, not only the women who experienced sexual violence. I wanted the Survivors to feel the solidarity of a nation coming together to help and to give.
So, I called on men and women to donate a skirt or dress to recognize the survivors. I wanted to create a piece that showed there is no shame and no stigma.
I wanted to bring this issue into the man’s world, to a public place. I decided to take this hidden private issue that no one wanted to talk about and place it in the main football arena in Prishtina. I decided to create a piece where thousands of skirts and dresses would be hung on washing lines across the stadium. No longer would the voices be hidden behind a curtain.
Across Kosova men and women, young and old, came forward to donate a skirt, to join this activist art installation. By making everyone part of the installation, by the very act of going to each city and collecting the skirts, and talking to survivors, the piece took on a life of its own. It became a journey of listening to the stories from all over Kosova. It became a place where women shared their stories and their concerns. It was very emotional and deep learning experience for me and for all who helped and participated.
For many of the survivors, participating, giving their skirts and hanging them was an emotional, calming act of letting go and giving them an opportunity to speak and to feel empowered, together.
That’s what makes Art work worthwhile: having access to masses, making a work under the skyline that is accessible to everyone not only to a few...
And this is why I refer to the power of Art... and what Art can achieve when it is visually represented in front of you, regardless of language, faith or nationality!
Despite having its roots in Kosova, the art installation 'Thinking Of you' installed in 2015, is dedicated to all the survivors of sexual violence all over the World. It has a universal language of its own, that can be understood and felt by everyone.
‘Thinking of You’ brought us together in remembering their pain and honouring the 20,000 survivors. We came together to assure them that they did nothing wrong, to tell them that we are ' Thinking of You’ and together we will break the silence and stigma.