YWCA Greater Cincinnati
 Home > Empty Chairs, Painful Windows

Cincinnati Enquirer
Friday, September 23, 2005


"End silence surrounding domestic abuse "

Lack of conversation, movement - lack of life itself - is the message of "Empty Chairs - Painful Windows," the haunting exhibit on domestic violence that opens today at the YWCA in downtown Cincinnati.

At its center is a thick arrangement of 114 red roses, each a painful tribute to the 114 women of our region killed by domestic violence since 1989.

These women's voices will never be heard again. They will never again hold their children, attend a college class, chat on the phone with a friend. Visitors to the exhibit will be angry, first, that these women lost their lives. And then they will be angry that we have lost these women.

And that is why it's up to all of us to break the silence that often surrounds domestic violence. The YWCA's exhibit and the award-winning video that runs with it, "Batterers Will Kill," make it clear that education can make a difference. So can vigorous prosecution of batterers.

Abusive behavior can show up early in dating relationships and, unaddressed, build to a deadly crescendo years later. So we must teach young women to recognize controlling behavior - frequent calls to find out where they are, attempts to isolate them from family or friends, a desire to dictate what they wear, eat and buy.

Women should know that the most dangerous time in the relationship is when they choose to end it. A number of the women honored in the "Empty Chairs" exhibit were murdered outside work or at their apartments after leaving their partners.
Women need a vast network of support to get out of abusive relationships. They need counseling, shelters, and support from courts, police and their families.

If we as a community provide that support, we will be saving the lives of women and the futures of their children.
We must vow that no more generations experience that terror - and that no more women are silenced by it.


Cincinnati Enquirer
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Art exhibit puts a face on domestic violence here"

By Sara Pearce
Enquirer staff writer



 The long dining table is set in gleaming silver. Large silver plates. Tall silver goblets. Silver forks, knives and spoons.
Behind each of the 12 place settings sits a silver picture frame with a photograph of a woman.

They are young and old, fat and thin, white and black, rich and poor. One wears her wedding gown. Another embraces her two young daughters.

Most are smiling.

All are dead.

The table is at the center of the exhibit "Empty Chairs - Painful Windows," which opens Friday at the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati's Women's Art Gallery.

Since 1989, when the Y began honoring area women who died at the hands of batterers, 114 women in Hamilton County have been killed as a result of domestic violence.


The Enquirer/Craig Ruttle

 The free exhibit also touches on the families left behind.

 From left Carmen Politis, O'Leary Bacon and Ali Hansen show their artwork.

The number of deaths varies from year to year, says Theresa Adair-Singleton, the Y's director for protection from abuse.
But one thing, she says, does not vary: The shelter, opened in 1978, is always full. "We served 1,060 women in 2004," she says. "In 1998, we replaced our old shelter with a new one. Even though we tripled our capacity to 60, we frequently exceed it."

Reminder of blood spilled

As part of the exhibit at the gallery at 898 Walnut St. downtown, a long black cloth drapes the table, reaching to the floor. The chairs gathered around wear black slipcovers.

The centerpiece of 100 fresh, long-stem red roses carries a mixed message of love and death.

Petals from the deep red flowers are strewn down the middle of the cloth as a stark reminder of the blood spilled.


"I can't tell you how long we talked about the centerpiece and which flowers should be in it," says Ali Hansen, the exhibit curator and founder of the gallery.

Lilies were rejected as funereal, sunflowers as too light.

"We wanted the table to be solemn, elegant, dignified and serene.

"Its eloquence honors them."

 The Enquirer/Craig Ruttle


 Artist Carmen Politis points to a work in the "Empty Chairs-Painful Windows" exhibit at the YWCA Women's Art Gallery as another piece is hung. The downtown gallery is at 898 Walnut St.

"The table, part of a larger exhibit that includes paintings on drawn window shades, had its genesis in a similar display in another city and in Judy Chicago's storied 1979 feminist art project "The Dinner Party."

Chicago's work featured an open, triangular table, set for 39 famous women, resting on a porcelain floor with the names of 999 more women inscribed on it.

The table was topped with a white cloth, elaborate hand-stitched runners and large painted plates.
"We started thinking about 'The Dinner Party' and the historic reverence of the table and dining together, and went from there," explains Hansen.

The elegance is juxtaposed with the jarring memorials engraved on each plate and the text on the black-edged note that rests atop each white napkin.

"He stabbed her to death as she left work," reads the description of the death of Cheryl Dawson, who was murdered in March 2002 at age 37 by her estranged husband.

"He beat them to death with a baseball bat, put them in a clothing tote and later buried them," is part of the story at the place set for Shannon Marie Nolan-Broe and her unborn daughter, Alexandra Jordan.

Parents in tears

Last week, Shannon's parents, L.C. and Sharon Nolan, stood in front of the table.

Next to the picture of Shannon, who was 24 and five months pregnant when she was killed, is an ultrasound snapshot of Alexandra.

The couple cried as they read what their son-in-law, now serving time in Lebanon Correctional Institution, did four years ago.

"It is beautiful and sad," said Sharon Nolan, her voice quivering. "It is almost as if they are being given more dignity in death than in life."

"To honor them with such beauty when they were taken from us so violently is really touching."

On Sept. 7, the fourth anniversary of Shannon and Alexandra's death, the Nolans headed to the Y's battered women's shelter.

"We brought food and games," Sharon Nolan said, "and cooked and spent our day there."

Cincinnati Enquirer
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"When home is where the hurt is: Art exhibit at YWCA portrays impact of domestic violence on women and children"

By Sara Pearce
Enquirer staff writer


Carrie Culberson, the Clinton County woman who disappeared in August 1996 and whose ex-boyfriend was convicted of her murder, is one of 11 domestic violence victims memorialized with a place setting.

It was a simple question.

"Is that your cat?"

"Yes," answered the 10-year-old girl, looking down at the picture she had just drawn.

"Where is your cat?"

"My daddy beat its head and it died."

The Enquirer/Craig Ruttle 


 Carrie Culberson, the Clinton County woman who disappeared in August 1996 and whose ex-boyfriend was convicted of her murder, is one of 11 domestic violence victims memorialized with a place setting.

A red heart-shaped balloon high in the sky represents the cat on a window shade hanging in the Women's Art Gallery of the YWCA of Greater Cincinnati. Toward the bottom of the shade a girl sits on the ground embracing her dog, Ozzy, and looking upward toward the heart.

The shade was painted by O'Leary Bacon, one of 13 artists who spent part of their summer talking to children in the Y's battered women's shelter and other programs about their families and what it is like to live with domestic violence.

The children's words and drawings were transformed, sometimes literally, by the artists into paintings on window shades for Empty Chairs - Painful Windows, an exhibit that opens Friday at the downtown gallery.

"I paint from a feeling level," says Bacon, who created three shades for the exhibit. "I just interpreted the landscape of her mind. The heart is the soul of her cat."

The shades line the gallery walls; interspersed between them are black and white panels offering statistics and answering questions about domestic violence. Who batters and is battered? How many women have died? What is the impact on children?

In one part of the space, a dining table draped in black is set for a meal. On it, in silver frames, are photographs of 11 of 114 area women murdered since 1989. The 12th frame holds a silhouette of a woman symbolizing the others.

In the corner of the room, a television plays the Y's award-winning documentary "Batterers Will Kill."

The images on the shades are hopeful, tragic and violent. In Martha Weber's "I Love My Mom," a mother's right arm encircles all nine of her children, protecting them from a father depicted as a horned devil.

Carmen Politis' "You Always Make Me Feel Broke," shows a mask-like girl's face split in half by a demonic father who has brought out the hate in her mother and who has battered the family dog. The dog is repeated in a stencil, its expressive face changing as the eye moves across the shade.

Interpreting the art was difficult and draining, says Politis, who completed four shades and spent five weeks talking to the children.

"We were trying to get into their minds and that wasn't always easy," she says. "And while we might feel their pain, we haven't lived it."

She says she had to forget her normal methods and rely instead on using the children's imagery and "stepping back and feeling what children do."

The children's sketches are shown next to each shade, along with an artist's narrative, recounting conversations and, sometimes, explaining how the drawings were adapted and why.

Ali Hansen, the gallery's co-curator and founder, attended every session at the shelter.

"It was so emotional that I don't even know how to explain it to you," says Hansen. "When we first thought about doing a show about domestic violence, we wondered how to translate it into art.

"We thought there might be a way to do that by working with the children."

She was surprised by the openness of the children.

"I find it overwhelming that a kid dropped off in the middle of the night at a shelter, carrying a knapsack that she 'always has packed to go,' would talk to me freely and trust me right away."

"Even the teenagers who are usually more closed-mouthed, they would talk to you."

She says it was important to get past feeling sorry for the children. "You don't want to be sorry, you want to help them express their ideas."

Even the Y's Theresa Adair-Singleton, who holds the title director, protection from abuse, and has been in charge of its shelter for 16 years, was taken by surprise.

"We always ask: Are we doing enough for the children?" she says. "But if I got anything from this project, and I guess I should have known it already, it is just how much the shelter means to the children - even the littlest ones."
In their drawings, the children depict the shelter as a safe haven.

One sketch "Unsafe Home/Safe Shelter" shows side-by-side houses. The words "happy and beautiful" are above one house and flowing from the windows are sleepy "zzzzzzs." The words "sad and beautiful" are above the other house and flowing from its windows are the words "shut up," "punch" and "kick."

Artist Jan Brown Checco hopes to replicate the experience, using art to work with other injured people. But before that, she will take photos of the exhibit with her on a trip to Liuzhou, Cincinnati's sister city in China.

"I am going to show it as community-based art and an example of how art can be used in new ways," she says. "It will be completely new in China."


YWCA of Greater Cincinnati, 898 Walnut Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202
 website@ywcacin.org • Phone: 513-241-7090 • Fax: 513-241-7231
Copyright 2013