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Clothesline Project Airs the Messages of Violence to Women : Exhibit: Shirts hung at Moorpark College are part of national campaign to draw attention to abuse and rape.

May 05, 1994|JULIE FIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An orange T-shirt told of a woman's experience with rape: "His hands on my throat stopped my screaming, stopped my breathing, but can't stop my healing."

A tiny white shirt hung on the same clothesline described "Little Yulissa B.," a 2-year-old girl who died of AIDS after being molested by her father.

And a swirling, tie-dye jersey, with words written in acrylic, told of a woman repeatedly raped by a relative as a child.

Hung from a clothesline on the Moorpark College campus, these shirts and about 60 others with equally gritty messages were part of a display Wednesday intended to draw attention to violence against women. All of the shirts were made by women who had suffered violence by their relatives.

About half of the blouses, which formed a multi-colored curtain across a grassy quad, were made by residents of Ventura County. The rest came from residents of the San Fernando Valley.

"When you first put it up, you're exposing a lot of dirty laundry--the violence women experience," said Paige Moser of the Simi-Conejo chapter of the National Organization of Women, which co-sponsored the exhibit.

"But the point is that it's not shameful. The women are not to blame," she added.

Moser said the one-day exhibit was part of a national campaign called "The Clothesline Project" created four years ago by a women's rights group in Cape Cod. The Moorpark College display marked the first time an extension of the project has appeared in Ventura County.

In all, about 100 communities across the country are staging similar exhibits this year, some with hundreds of shirts.

On the Moorpark campus, the brightly colored shirts attracted the attention of passing students, some of whom thought they were for sale or part of an art class exhibit.

"I thought they were kind of like hippie shirts, or secondhand, Goodwill stuff," said Justin Huish, 19, of Simi Valley, who was sitting with a friend near a trio playing a bongo drum and guitars. "I didn't know what was going on."

Others, however, stopped to take a closer look.

As he studied the illustrations and words on cloth, Jason Parr, 25, thought not of the victims, but of their abusers.

"Those people aren't men," he said quietly. "I don't know what they are . . . It's definitely not cool."

Claudia Cardenas, 22, said the public display was a good way to focus attention on rape and incest, subjects often kept hidden by shame and guilt.

"This gives people a chance to take a look at it from a really personal level and see the pain in the heart of people who suffer this," she said.

"People need to realize how women are affected by really sexist attitudes in our society," Cardenas added.

Organizers said blouses and T-shirts were chosen to emphasize a personal attachment to each victim. Different colors were used to symbolize different types of violence.

White stood for women who were killed; red, pink and orange for rape; yellow or beige for assault; blue or green for incest and child abuse; black for gang rape, and purple for attacks related to sexual preference.

While many of the shirts were decorated with paint, rick-rack and ribbons, others were plain with stark messages. One blue T-shirt read simply: "I was seven years old."

Moser said the Simi-Conejo chapter of NOW and the Ventura-based Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence hope to take the clothesline display to other campuses in Ventura County next year and to acquire more shirts from women in the county.

"We're just starting our outreach," she said.

While the clothesline was successful in attracting attention on campus Wednesday, some students questioned what effect it would have.

"Read them, they're sad," said Jill Hollowell, 47, of Simi Valley. "But I wonder, anybody who is an abuser, are they going to realize this is about them? I don't think so."

FYI

To donate a shirt to the Clothesline Project or to find out more information about it, contact: Simi-Conejo NOW, P.O. Box 817, Simi Valley, CA 93062. The phone number is (805) 583-1213.

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