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The Sunlight Project: A Celebration by Survivors of Sexual Assault

Updated: Feb 2, 2019

Celebration and sexual assault aren’t often heard in the same sentence. But Lucy Hall, the creator of new multimedia exhibition The Sunlight Project, is anything but regular.


At 25, Lucy stood in the 2015 elections as an Independent candidate for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. She felt the mainstream political system was broken and, unlike the rest of us, she actually did something about it. She proposed using an app to poll her constituents so that she could truly vote in the interests of those she served. Lucy was ultimately defeated, but in standing she created debate and actively pushed the issue of accountability for MPs, an accountability that we are only just seeing them start to be held to.


Credit: Lucy's own archive

A few years later, Lucy was raped. Just writing that seems invasive, like I’ve betrayed her privacy in some way. This goes to show how little we’ve progressed in removing stigma for survivors of assault. Lucy sought catharsis by writing about her experiences, but found that media discussions of assault seemed to always be on behalf of survivors. Their testament would be heard, then they’d be quietly moved to one side as the accused was put under the spotlight. Lucy explains: “The more people I spoke to who had experienced similar things to me, the more I realised that these are people who have been through so much and are so strong and resilient and I wanted to celebrate that.”


In an act of huge bravery, Lucy decided to put on an exhibition exploring sexual assault by survivors. The Sunlight Project collects paintings, poetry, photography, music and film by different artists, many of whom have experienced assault in some way. Her aim is to ‘comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable’.


Can you explain what The Sunlight Project is and why you set it up?


The Sunlight Project was a multimedia exhibition I curated, that ran for five days in London. Its intention was to celebrate survivors of sexual assault, and in doing so letting the stories told be ones that were by survivors, not about them.


I was propelled to curate The Sunlight Project through my own experience: I was raped in November last year. The idea came from a need for catharsis and healing, and was inspired in large part by the huge comfort that meeting and talking to other survivors brought me.  


Can you talk us through your piece?


I wrote a short story called Missing Information. It describes conversations between the narrator – who has been assaulted or abused in some way - and somebody else – we never learn who or what this other voice is. The story details a growing relationship between the two. Missing Information attempts to capture the confusion and isolation inherent to trauma, but I hope it also hopeful, and shows how the people who love you can save you.  


Despite recent progress, there’s still so much undeserved shame around rape and assault. How did it feel to take that leap to talk about your experiences publicly?

It felt a million different things at once to be honest. I still don’t even really know. I felt empowered and brave a lot of the time, but I also had moments of total vulnerability: it was hard because I was the curator, so had to act stronger than I felt a lot of the time! The opening night I found very emotional and slightly surreal. Even now, a year on, I’m still only just beginning to process what happened to me.


Speaking out can seem futile when people like Dr. Blasey Ford aren’t believed, but is openness about our experiences of rape the way to move forward?


For sure! apart from the obvious point that justice won’t be got, silence fuels cycles of blame, self-hatred and shame for victims. That doesn’t mean you must tell the world, but I strongly believe that one must never ever be ashamed of something that happened, arbitrarily, to them. It is NEVER the victim's fault.  


" The idea came from a need for catharsis and healing, and was inspired in large part by the huge comfort that meeting and talking to other survivors brought me. "

What were some of the other pieces exhibited and performed?


My story was illustrated by my cousin, Betty Hall. Kate Grant’s paintings depicted a friend who suffered abuse, showing her new life and strength; musician Louise Gold composed a song reflecting on an experience she had at age 17; there were two spoken word poets Alice Briselden Waters Cause of Death: I Still Dream About You Twice a Week and Roz Weaver (Recovery Is and Til Dawn) whose poems were displayed and performed, and Grace Child presented a series of photographs accompanied by advice from strangers, detailing how powerful other people can be in the recovery process. There were also portraits of four survivors by photographer Emily Rose, and a short film about the Sunlight Project by filmmaker Louis Hollis.


Another piece displayed, which I supposed was mine in a way, were three booklets with anonymous answers to three questions about sex and consent by various men. This turned out to be one of the most interesting pieces in many ways, and sparked a lot of conversation.

What effect was there with it being shown in a domestic setting rather than a traditional gallery?


I think the space was intimate and felt personal, and people engaged with the work in a quieter, more contemplative way than they otherwise might have done. The effect of having sofas and chairs was wonderful in encouraging conversations.


What are your plans for The Sunlight Project in the future?


At the moment, I’m not entirely sure. I want to try and get Arts Council funding to do it on a bigger scale, but I need a partner: somebody as equally invested as I am. It’s hard to do these things alone. I hope to do another exhibition next summer, either way.


Is there anything else you’d like to say?


Just how important it is that the conversation around sexual violence continues. And that every single survivor I’ve met is so brave and resilient, and yet there is no hero narrative for sexual assault survivors (in the same way there might be for other victims of trauma e.g. soldiers). I would urge that everyone who knows someone who has been assaulted (I can guarantee most of you do) to stop for a minute, and really appreciate how brave that person is.


Thank you so much to Lucy Hall for speaking so honestly and eloquently to us.


Note: This interview has been edited, read the extended version in our magazine which you can buy here.

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