A new exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ballarat sets about making a real and tangible difference to the survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
Survivor and Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) president Robert House has curated Out of the Darkness in response to the trauma he, and thousands of others, experienced as children in institutions across the country.
"The main idea of the exhibition is to celebrate the victory over all the institutions who were either complicit or active in abusing children and the system that covered it up," he said.
The exhibition, which runs until August, features a range of work by well-known contemporary Australian artists who are not necessarily survivors of child abuse but who each feel a strong connection with the issue.
Mr House came to the art world in his 30s when he was hospitalised for psychiatric treatment.
"The only solace I got was art," he said. "When I was in a dark place, I found that I was able to break free by expressing myself through my art."
He talked to a friend who suggested he enrol in a fine arts degree, which he did.
"I didn't complete the fine arts degree but I got the idea to create and curate an exhibition of this magnitude. That led me to collecting stories and translating them into a visual format, so I started to commission artists to create work.
I want the experiences of me and others who have suffered to matter, so I want people to come and see it and be inspired to believe that they can make a difference.Robert House
"It was difficult ... trying to give an artistic representation on a topic that is still faced with trepidation and fear, which it shouldn't be - it should be the absolute opposite."
The exhibition mixes art genres from more classical paintings to cartoons, underground art, fine art and more.
"The idea behind commissioning these works is to have it preserved in history, so in the future we can reflect back similar to how artists noted events by art in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries before film and photography."
Mr House said the subject matter would be triggering for some, but in triggering it was also a call to action.
"There's a bit of fear about triggering or offending people in the art that's represented. It should trigger and it should be offensive because of its topic," Mr House said.
"It's what you do with that. It should trigger you in to action to fight against and maintain the order of justice - if we are not triggered or not offended then we don't act.
"That was my, and CLAN's back story. We were not afraid to trigger and offend. Without doing that we weren't going to get justice."
When curating the exhibition Mr House specifically had eyes on showing it in Ballarat because of the city's history of institutional child abuse.
Because of the subject matter and the depth of its impact in Ballarat, there are about 20 pieces from Mr House's collection which are not part of Out of the Darkness.
"It was best practice, safe practice and a bit of a balancing act," Mr House said. "There will be a place to present those but it's not in this public gallery here."
Several artworks in the exhibition come from the Art Gallery of Ballarat's collection.
Gallery director Louise Tegart said that the exhibition reflected the gallery's aim to be at the heart of Ballarat's community life.
"The arts have an important role to play in reflecting community concerns and to be a place of artistic responses to important matters in the community," she said.
"Artists have a particular role in picking up on the issues and feelings of a community and finding new ways of showing them. The exhibition gives a national context to a local issue."
In developing the exhibition the Art Gallery worked closely with survivor networks and support organisations CLAN and Ballarat Health Services' Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA).
"This has been a really brave exhibition for us to do. Because of the content it's involved a lot more community consultation than we would normally do if we were showing a straight art exhibition."
"It's not a Ballarat story per-se but has a national context because if focuses on the Royal Commission in to Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse."
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One of the more than 400 recommendations of the Royal Commission was that initiatives should be established to raise community awareness and knowledge of child sex abuse.
"This exhibition firmly fits in to that recommendation. It's a way for the general public to gain a better understanding of the profound impact of child sexual abuse and understand through the positive power of art that survivors should be heard," Ms Tegart said.
The gallery is also part of Continuous Voices, a multidimensional arts participation project that will culminate in the design of a dedicated public space to acknowledge sexual assault survivors in Ballarat - and visitors to the exhibition can offer their suggestions on what that should look like.
"We hope that this exhibition will contribute positively to the movement within our society to support and give recognition to those who have experienced child sexual abuse," Ms Tegart said.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au. The key message is you are not alone.
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