The door still hangs in her grandmother’s home today. It’s as simple as any other of its kind. But about two inches from the small brass knob, the wood is snapped and shattered, framing a dent the size of a fist. It’s a haunting image, resonating with memories of another violent occasion.
Memories like the door are what drove Trish Gibson to create “Embedded in These Walls,” a series of images depicting sites of trauma from her family history. Gibson is a VCU student pursuing a Master’s degree in photography and film. She also teaches undergraduate classes, balancing two other jobs on the side.
The photographs are accompanied by a short book of poems, which caption excerpts from her family photo albums. Although the story is specific to Gibson’s memories, the details are familiar to many. The installation at the Anderson gallery retells a history of domestic violence experienced by millions every year.
“There are 11 women on the maternal side of my family who have all had really large punctuated marks of abuse in their lives, and the majority of men in my family are abusers,” Gibson said. “Because so many of the women in my life were affected by this, I became fascinated with the statistics of this epidemic thing that wasn’t being properly addressed.”
Gibson started the project before the issue gained political attention during the 2016 election and subsequent #MeToo movement. She said the groundwork really began when her aunt was taken to the hospital last year.
“She had been beaten up so badly that she had almost died,” Gibson said. “She had most of the hair ripped out of her head, two broken bones in her face, her eyelid was ripped almost completely off of her.”
Gibson spent the next week recording stories from her aunt to show detectives. Her family intended to press charges against her aunt’s partner for attempted murder. Barely cognisant, her aunt retold the violence she experienced. But when she was fully awake, she denied everything she had said and wished to drop all charges and return home to her partner.
“The more she started to heal, the more she would deny,” Gibson said. “But these things kept occurring rapidly. There’d sometimes be a moment of silence, but then she would be admitted back into the hospital for another attack.”
Gibson started weaving her aunt’s story into the larger history behind the abuse that has affected her family for generations. She collected photographs and interviews with other members of her family, analyzing the duality of stories from the past and present.
“I became really interested in the shared consciousness that might exist between people who have gone through a similar type of suffering together,” Gibson said. “I started going into a meditative state and writing poem-like pieces from the perspectives of different members of my family.”
With poems and large-format photographs, “Embedded in These Walls” narrates a curated version of her family’s history. The details behind each image are not needed to understand the story, because the cacophony is almost instantly recognizable.
“The concept behind this gallery is that a place can hold trauma in the same way that a body can hold trauma,” Gibson said. “A space can be littered with the memories of past events.”
By arranging the pictures according to height, Gibson transforms the exhibition at the Anderson into a real home scarred with abuse. For instance, one image of a dresser is hung from the view of her mother’s childhood bed, transporting the viewer into another perspective.
In many images, there’s a small sliver of another space visible beyond the site of trauma. In the picture of her grandmother’s door, the edge of the shot hints at a different room basking in brighter light.
“I think that speaks to the entrapment of knowing the way out, but not being able to fully access that point,” Gibson said. “It replicates the feeling of how the women in my family have had to continue to exist within this cycle without being able to access a reasonable way out.”
“Embedded in These Walls” will be showing at the Anderson gallery until Nov. 16.
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