On Friday 25th June I received my degree classification, after four years in education, with the last two semesters completed in the eye of a global pandemic, I was awarded a first class degree and could not have been more proud of myself! University was not a door that was open to me in my youth and going back as a mature student was a massive leap of faith. I can now proudly put BA (Hons) after my name, but I have achieved so much more than that, after thirty years I was able to final heal from the psychological abuse I had suffered as a child.
My Degree Project, Sheep’s Parsley, was always going to be challenging, not only because of the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but also because of the deeply personal subject matter. Emotional child abuse is discussed in terms of statistics, with visual imagery depicting the cliché poses of sad looking children hugging a teddy bear. The reality though is very different, with this project I wanted to communicate the emotional scars that psychological abuse in childhood can bring.
Creatively I needed to think about whether to present a body of work that was, either literal or symbolic, or a mixture of both. I also needed to engage with the concepts and arguments that surround our perception of childhood abuse, how it is dealt with, and the lasting damage it brings. By looking at psychodynamic psychology, the work of Sigmund Freud and posing the question as to whether emotional child abuse was a term coined by overzealous social care, that some may interpret as teenage angst or tough love. The notion that abuse and neglect could be regarded as subjective was my core motivation for this body of work. I was not believed as a child and as an adult I had learnt not to discuss the mistreatment I suffered at the hands of my mother, as more often than not it was my behaviour that was judged, not hers.
Initially I begun by experimenting with processes that manipulated family photographs; emulsion lifts, layering with transparencies and darkroom printing techniques, but this felt to literal, and for me didn’t communicate the pain I had felt as a child, or the scars it had left behind. Visually I was inspired by the work of Francesca Woodman and Ellen Jane Rogers, work that had a visceral quality about it and demonstrated how photography could be used as creative expression. The emotional connection that Dragana Jurišić and Aletheia Casey both spoke of, and how their work was integral to their own mental wellbeing, was also something that struck a chord with my own practice. However, artist research was there to inspire me and my reading around my subject was there to inform me, but it was about finding my own perspective that would ultimately enable me to build an original body of work. It was important to me that the process of creating the images was something I could engage with on a physical level. Working with film is not only my preferred way of working, but during the government lockdowns, that drove our lives towards the isolation of online learning, working with analogue processes was hugely beneficial to my mental health.
Sheep’s Parsley is a powerful and emotional representation of my inner thoughts and emotions and has proved to be a very cathartic process for me personally, but I appreciate that it may evoke uncomfortable feelings for some. My hope for this project is that it will open up conversations on the lasting effects psychological child abuse can bring.
Some facts and figures from the ONS
Emotional and psychological child abuse is not subjective and cannot be categorised as parental tough love or teenage angst.
- The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that 3.8 million people have experienced emotional abuse before the age of 16; this abuse was most commonly perpetrated by a parent
- Childline delivered 3,925 counselling sessions to children in the UK where emotional abuse was the primary concern in the year ending March 2019.
- Emotional abuse is the only type of abuse to see an increase in Childline counselling sessions from the previous year, in contrast to the decrease for all other types of abuse; increased public awareness of the damage caused by emotional abuse is thought to have contributed to this increase.
- 3.8 million adults in England and Wales experienced emotional abuse and neglect before the age of 16, that equates to nearly 11 children each day; 11 children who will carry the burden of abuse for the rest of their lives. (ONS, 2020)
- The ONS have yet to release their figures for March 2020 to March 2021, figures that will encompass the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic