Linda Thompson from the Women’s Support Project has been working with some of our students ahead of an exhibition she has co-ordinated that aims to raise awareness of issues faced by women working in the sex industry.
Students from our HNC and HND Performing Arts, HNC Media and HND Fashion courses have been involved in workshops on this subject, ahead of the exhibition’s launch today, 19 April, with the full multimedia exhibition open to the public from 20 April to 29 April at Ayr Court House.
A group of women have shared their personal stories and worked with artists and photographers to create the exhibition.
It’s called ‘Inside Outside’.
‘Inside’ is the artwork created by the women inside the industry and ‘Outside’ is the work created in response to this. Our students have been engaged in a number of projects which will be included in the exhibition when it comes to Ayr.
The drama students are taking the women’s stories to develop short pieces for performance, the media students are looking at representation of women in prostitution in television and film, and the fashion students are decorating white masks with their responses to the issues raised in the workshop. A number of students have also volunteered to support the installation of the exhibition and help to market it through social media.
Here Linda has written ahead of the exhibition to highlight the need for this powerful exhibition, and how Ayrshire College has been involved.
“People are supposed to be able to deal with this kind of thing but…they don’t want to know it. You see the look in their eyes, it just makes them so uncomfortable, and you can see that they think it’s dirty, it’s appalling, and it’s disgraceful. It’s filthy and it’s wrong.
“That silencing is like a gag.”
Stories are powerful. They are how we learn from others and gain insights into others’ experiences and lives. They are also incredibly powerful for the teller – especially for anyone who has experienced violence and abuse, the telling of a story can help people to make sense of what happened to them as well as gain some control back. They can also help survivors to link and connect with each other and not feel so isolated and alone.
Women and men who are or have been involved in the sex industry often find that no-one really wants to hear their stories and certainly not the mainstream media. There can be few safe ways to share their realities and what they have experienced.
Workers who have supported many women over many years in local services did not recognise a lot of what they were seeing in news reports, articles and on social media. It did not reflect either the women’s lives or views and opinions.
As one worker wrote: “I have been privileged to support a number of clients during my short time as a worker. They have told me their stories, they have revealed what they want to, or are able, and they have kept those things that they are unable to share, or that they want to keep to themselves. What the women are telling me about their experiences, their lives, doesn’t even slightly resemble the impression I had before from the stories that the media and popular culture had fed me.”
We decided that through Inside Outside we wanted to offer women who had not told their full story the chance to do so and also look at ways to do it creatively. We would not be speaking on their behalf but allow them to tell and share what was important to them about being inside and outside the sex industry.
We are delighted to be working alongside the Violence Against Women partnerships across Ayrshire to bring the voices, stories, artwork and photographs of women involved in Inside Outside to Ayr. There will be an exciting programme of events leading up to the main exhibition which will take place in the Town Hall and Old Court. We will also be making use of the holding cells and giving people a chance to see this hidden space.
We were keen to link with Ayrshire College and worked with staff from Media, Drama and Fashion as well as Equality and Inclusion on a taster day of workshops with students on 19 February. It was a tough day at times looking at issues around representation of women in the sex industry, whose voices are given dominance, and how the mainstream media chooses to create certain stereotypes and tropes.
We also heard from the women who had been involved in the project with parts of their stories and experiences being read and shared. The group were warned at the start that it could be like a roller coaster, hearing about experiences of abuse, exploitation and assaults but the students gave their time, energy and attention to these women and their issues.
As one student said: “It was all very powerful, I went through a lot of feelings and emotions – a mixture between numb, sadness, anger, frustration and disgust.”
Another said: “I honestly feel saddened to hear what they went through and quite scared that it is still happening to other women.”
A few students asked that their messages of thanks were passed directly to the women.
Some students worked on their own ideas and projects to be included in #InsideOutsideAyrshire. We were really excited to see what they want to showcase, and other students at Ayrshire College got the chance to see these at a pop-up exhibition in the College before the main event.