In her YouTube video about Project Unbreakable, Grace Brown describes perfectly the power of leadership that speaks truth in a silencing culture. Her photographs of people who experienced rape or sexual abuse empower the subjects as they hold the phrases their abusers used to silence and shame them. This is the power of leadership through art, empowerment through quiet and authentic witness.
Warning: If you have experienced sexual abuse or trauma, this blog may be triggering…
She said, “I realized I had the ability to make a huge difference in a world where sexual abuse is shamed and kept quiet and people were finally letting go and taking the power back of words that were once used against them. My name is Grace Brown. These are our stories. And we are unbreakable.”
Project Unbreakable is a tumblr project that has grown into an international photography project where men and women claim their power by standing quiet, holding a poster they’ve written themselves that quotes their attackers. It’s a moving, upsetting, extraordinary project, demonstrating a kind of leadership rarely praised, even more rarely seen.
Grace Brown describes Project Unbreakable as “the art of healing.” It is also a gift of quiet leadership that includes and welcomes all who want to heal in this way, and empowers them to tell the truth, all the while demonstrating the ways abusers lie, twisting words to derail resistance and cause self-doubt and shame in their victims.
Each person photographed chose the words they wanted to write. Most wrote the words of their abusers; but some wrote their stories and used the opportunity to reclaim their strength. Here are some of the images:
Powerful statements like, “I remain unbroken!” make the direct and fearless gaze of those photographs accusations and affirmations. What is indicted here is not only the lies and coercions that left their own scars, but also a rape culture that justifies the abuse, essentially giving silence its own script, shown here over and over in the victim’s posters.
In some ways, each of the men and women who choose to participate in Project Unbreakable are taking back their own leadership in their families and communities. Here, this woman writes, “I’m glad my daughter is nothing like you!” She has redefined, reclaimed, the words, “I love you,” and broken the cycle.
This is the unmistakable power of art, driven by a young woman’s visionary leadership which transforms the world at first, one person and one photograph at a time. But the momentum builds as we all become witnesses, facing the lies we may have been told, or standing to support others as they reclaim their power. The momentum builds as we claim the true leadership of love, what it really means, and what we might create with its power.
More resources about the political and social power of photographs: