Student Uses Her Art to Raise Awareness of Domestic Violence

Senior Jaime Crist brings awareness to domestic violence through her senior capstone project.

Three thousand five hundred sixty thumbtacks.

It took Nebraska Wesleyan University senior art major Jaime Crist approximately 12 hours to poke them all into a four-foot by 16-foot corkboard that would hang on the Elder Gallery wall, showcasing her artistic talents at the Senior Art Exhibit.

All 3,560 red tacks look exactly the same. But they all come with a different story, including her own.

Three years ago and just hours after leaving a hospital emergency room, Crist took a photo of herself, bloodied and beaten — the latest victim of domestic abuse.

“Sometime later I printed the photo and wrote the word ‘strong’ across the bottom as a reminder to myself of just how much I was capable of enduring,” Crist wrote in her artist statement. “So that when times got tough and I wanted to give up, I would have this image that would tell me to keep going, because I already had made it through hell.”

She entered college and took a beginning photography class. During one class the professor projected images on a large screen, including a self-portrait of American photographer Nan Goldin a month after she had been brutally beaten by a boyfriend.

“The photograph struck me immediately,” she recalled.

It marked a turning point for Crist.

Crist soon found purpose for her art. It started with framing a photo of herself holding her own abused image. She hung it on the gallery wall during a juried student show and walked away.

“As I walked out and onto campus I wondered if anyone would recognize the battered girl was me,” she said. “I was flustered and a little paranoid, but I really felt less embarrassed and kind of fearless. It was a feeling of empowerment at the time.”

The portrait received an overwhelming response and the reaction of her classmates inspired her to inspire others. She started a collection titled “promises,” which photographed friends and family members posing and portraying images that signify a vow they want to carry throughout their lives.

When it was time for her senior capstone art project, Crist found herself at a point where she was ready to connect her past history with abuse to a broader audience. She researched and learned that 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner each year. She did the calculations and determined that to be 3,560 victims each day.

So she counted 3,560 red thumbtacks and pushed them all one-by-one into the corkboard.

“I wanted to bring the statistic into a real-life, tactile space,” she said. “I wanted to present each representation of a victim in a way that can easily be viewed, touched, and understood to strive for a more emotional impact.”

The corkboard is on display in Nebraska Wesleyan’s Elder Gallery now through May 18. Crist shared her personal story and discussed the project during the university’s NWU Student Symposium on May 8.

Crist says more needs to be done expose the increasing number of domestic violence cases — more public service announcements, more posters, more talking, and more visual art.

“I hope that this installation piece and others like it will present a more approachable way for people to be impacted and attain a broader understanding of just how widespread domestic violence occurrences are in the U.S.,” she said. “Just to get people talking about the issue and hopefully comprehending its scope is what I can hope to achieve with my work.”