The intersection of gender-based violence and art

March 5, 2021

As part of a new Creativity, the Arts and Social Transformation (CAST) course, students will have the opportunity to “dive into historical and cultural contexts while exploring gender-based violence as a grave violation of human rights,” according to the course description. As part of the CAST program, the course heavily engages with the arts as part of its curriculum and weaves the idea of expression through art with the urgent conversation surrounding gender-based violence. 

Whether it be as a creator, performer, audience member or other participant, students will be given the opportunity to learn and study more about this topic, while understanding art pieces that hold deep connection and meaning to it. Specifically, the class will explore a diverse range of artistic works that provides insight into gender-based violence from all perspectives, including “the experiences of those who identify as women, have been assigned to or perceived of as members of that category, or who identify and present as femme,” Professor Toni Shapiro-Phim (CAST) explained in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.  

Students will have the chance to explore a variety of art forms, ranging from art installations in galleries, theatrical productions, pop-up concerts to street protests and film, in relation to gender-based violence, according to Shapiro-Phim. 

“Gender-based violence can be physical as well as sexual, emotional, or psychological,” Shapiro-Phim explained. “It happens out in public, and away from society’s gaze, in people’s homes. It’s important to acknowledge how serious and heavy this topic is, and how it affects all people differently.” Camila Cano ’23, who is assisting Shapiro-Phim in teaching the course, added that students will be given time and opportunities during the class to discuss their personal and collective responses to the topics discussed in class. 

The unique perspective that comes from studying gender-based violence through a CAST lens creates a new learning experience for students, Shapiro-Phim explained. Studying the arts “can be crafted to support people as they mourn losses and empathize with the suffering of others,” Shapiro-Phim wrote to The Hoot. “It might call local or global attention to oppression or violence, and to the experiences of those often marginalized and/or rendered invisible. It can also seek accountability and offer possibilities for imagining the future that an individual or a community desires, a future to work toward.” This class helps to build a bridge between the power of artwork and the importance of understanding gender-based violence. 

Through the teachings of this course, students will also develop their own recognition and understanding of the “moral, social, cultural, spiritual, economic and political potency of artistic and other cultural practices in countering gender-based violence,” Shapiro-Phim wrote to The Hoot. The purpose of this course is not only to educate students on gender-based violence expressed through art in a historical and cultural context, but to also make them aware of how we perpetuate this violence and how we can change that. 

The first step to change is education and awareness. From there, students must take their own knowledge and understanding to self-reflect and question how they can live purposefully and approach themselves and their communities with constructive change. 

This course offers powerful insight and analysis into both art and the pressing issue of gender-based violence. “[Gender-based violence] is a weapon of civil and international war and built into the fabric of human trafficking,” Shapiro-Phim explained. “It occurs on college campuses, in refugee camps and in workplaces and bedrooms of the wealthy and privileged as well as of those living in precarity. It is a global issue.The impacts, often long-term, are physical and social, emotional and economic. It is a scourge on humanity that has been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic. It behooves us to pay attention, and to respond.” 

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