Young Critic Eifion Ap Cadno Responds to Sanja Iveković’s Women’s House (Sunglasses)

Eifion recently participated in the lunchtime series of events as part of this years Artes Mundi exhibition, Eifion performed his response at Ffotogallery,  Penarth.
I wrote the short story “Look After” in response to Sanja Iveković’s project Women’s House (Sunglasses) in which she has appropriated iconic images of women modelling sunglasses for famous brands including Gucci and Dior. On these, she has superimposed text: names, nationalities, ages and stories of various women who have suffered abuse at the hands of their partner or parents, and have found help and courage in women’s shelters. Personally I found myself either linking the two and seeing the models as the abused women, or, separating the two entirely, they would lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Models show us things, often explicitly, whereas abuse is all too often covered up.
While I appreciated the use of both image and text, and its presentation as a magazine upon a bare table, the stories themselves prompted me to respond. In one the husband locks his children in a closet and threatens he will “cut their mother’s throat, cut her to pieces, put salt on her, and eat her if they told her about the other women” he brought back to the house. Written mostly devoid of any artistic embellishment, they jar, horrify and amaze; and soon they seem to all follow a pattern. Abuse. Fear. Courage. Change. However, some break this pattern, and the woman is left without the hope for a new beginning.
Domestic abuse tends to be covered up and ignored; it is often too late when it is addressed. My response is simple. An amalgam of a few of the women’s stories, it – hopefully -captures the cry for help and the refusal. The sunglasses are threaded in too: each of the policemen she encounters wears them, symbolising authorities turning a blind eye. Even the “Hand of the Government” is faceless.
While there is some artistic license, “Look After” is a true story. Some of it is distorted or heightened but it happened. I hope it prompts you to visit the Ffotogallery, Turner House in Penarth where Sanja’s work is being shown until February 21st. For a more sensory experience, a brilliant music and video installation by Ragnar Kjartansson and co. is also there until then.
Thank you,
Eifion Ap Cadno
Look After
There was a knocking.
Thump, thump.
Nicola leapt up from her chair in the corner, ran past her grinning husband and threw open the door.
‘Thank you so much for coming, please help me’ said Nicola. Two policemen stood at the top of the steps, wearing sunglasses so Nicola couldn’t see the colour of their eyes.
‘Is your husband here, madam?’ said the one on the left.
‘We would like to speak with your husband, madam’ said the other.
‘Yes. No. I mean yes, he is here, but please take me and my daughter away from him’
‘I understand madam. If we could just speak with your husband then I’m sure we can sort this all out.’ They smiled at her, but behind the pitch-black sunglasses their eyes were cold. She turned and looked back into the house. Through the doorway in the hall he could be seen laughing from his armchair; just beyond in the kitchen their daughter stood in the darkness, her white dress and face shimmering as a ghost. “I’ll come back for you, I promise!” cried Nicola, and pushed past the two officers.

Puddles were forming and her feet were sore when she came to a standstill. The streets had seemed empty up until now, so when headlights appeared through the rain she darted into the road, throwing her hands forward. The car stopped. Slowly the driver’s window wound down to reveal two suited officers. Despite the night-time and dark interior of the vehicle they both wore sunglasses that matched their uniforms – sharp and stylish. ‘What can we do you for lady?’ said the driver. ‘You shouldn’t be out at this time of night’ added the passenger, ‘you’ll find trouble, all on your own’.
Nicola stooped down low to the driver’s face, to make her grief seen. ‘Please, help me, my husband is at home with my daughter, he has hurt us both. He has hurt us. Look’, and here she lifted up her arm. Blood ran down her side from a deep cut between her ribs.
‘You should get that seen to lady’ said the driver, ‘someone might think you’re vulnerable and take advantage. There’s a hospitable nearby but why don’t you go home to your family, they’ll look after you.’
The window wound up, the car pulled off, and Nicola was left alone once again, the puddle at her feet incarnadine.

A short while later, the drenched mother, desperate for attention, stumbled into the foyer. Now the unnatural groove in her rib no longer ached, it was the blinding white light she could not stand.
‘Welcome to the Hand of the Government,’ came a recorded and distant voice over the tannoy, ‘here to serve and to punish. Please speak your business now.’
‘I need help’ whimpered Nicola.
‘I’m sorry, please repeat that’
For some time there was no response. Nicola fell to the wall, and slowly slumped into the floor, smearing a trail of blood behind. The tannoy sparked into life once more.
‘We have taken a reading of your person and have matched your official profile and background with your identity. Nicola. Thank you for taking the time to visit us this evening. From your parentage and education we have come to the conclusion that you can look after yourself. We ask you to return home to your family, they will be worried for your safety. Goodbye.’

No sooner had Nicola pulled herself out the doorway when a pair of black boots, meticulously laced, brushed her fingertips softly. Looking up, she saw a large, suited policeman staring back down at her. In his sunglasses her reflection could be seen, a pale representation of a human being.
‘You are under arrest for the murder of your daughter. You have the right to remain silent.’

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