Paintings evoke awareness, dialogue

A large crowd filled the grand ballroom of the Student Union building Wednesday night for the “Sexual and Domestic Violence Series” art exhibit.

MeloD, a gifted artist and a survivor of domestic violence, has earned much acclaim for her emotive work on social issues.

The Florida Department of Health Sexual Violence Prevention Program, in conjunction with the FAMU Victim Advocate Program, the National Council of Negro Women and the Alpha Xi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. sponsored the exhibit, a statewide public information campaign.

According to MeloD, the series began as a visual diary for her own therapy, but it has evolved into a powerful tool that is used to heal, educate and persuade people to speak out.

The pieces are highly symbolic and they show MeloD’s ability to present universal themes like fear, denial, awareness, deception, confusion, victimization and also survival.

“It is our hope that by giving young people an opportunity to experience these powerful images, we can increase awareness of and change attitudes toward sexual violence,” said Jan Davis, director of the Florida Department of Health Sexual Violence Prevention Program. “The goal of the program is to encourage students to employ rape risk-reduction techniques and to recognize the characteristics of health relationships.”

Ranaldo Allen, vice pole march of the Alpha XI Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. said their organization was eager to participate because of the seriousness of the issue.

“One of our organization’s objective is to provide for the spiritual, social, intellectual and moral welfare of the members,” said the 20-year-old business administration student from Jacksonville. “This event provided us with the opportunity to become more socially conscious and it also encourage men to become involved.”

The series was first unveiled on Oct. 1, 2001, at the Dade City Government Center in Pasco County, Fla. The shelter that supported MeloD during her personal experience with domestic violence hosted the special exhibit. Since its introduction, the series has shown over 60 times in eight states and over 25 Florida cities. FAMU was the 65th exhibit in the 25-month tour.

The nine works in this exhibit run the range of stories and emotions.

“The series is my gift back,” MeloD said. “It is a gift to all victims. It is harsh. It is blunt. It is the truth.”

Audience members were moved by MeloD’s quiet, yet frank disclosure of her experience. There were groans of acknowledgement and “hmms” during her explanation of each piece. “Emergence,” which depicts the most dangerous times and the turning point in the victim’s life, stayed in one member of the audience’s mind.

“I can relate to this on so many different levels,” Rick Ulysse said. “I have family members who have been affected by abuse and I’m still trying to understand it,” said the 20-year-old fine arts student from Fort Lauderdale.

Another attendant said the exhibit made an impact and MeloD’s presentation was “ageless.”

Xiomara Turner, 23, said the presentation brought back memories of an abuse she witnessed while she was in middle school. “It should be taught at a young age,” said Turner, a student peer educator with the FAMU Victim Advocate Program. “This is safety. This is help,” she said.

MeloD’s mission for the series is to generate awareness, educate and evoke dialog about the issues of sexual and domestic violence. She ended her presentation with a surprise unveiling of her newest piece. The work, which she is still sketching and is yet to be titled, shows the emotions of date rape, the college experience and the victim’s reflection of what happened.

MeloD said she was prompted to do this piece because of a recent drug-facilitated rape that took place at a college party. The victim is one of her daughter’s close friends.

MeloD urged the audience to become educated about the signs and symptoms of abuse. She stressed the importance of the community becoming aware and being able to recognize that a victim needs help and they should be able to offer assistance.

“If you have gained anything from this, take it back and share it with people,” she said. “Help stop abuse.”