International art exhibit in San Antonio portrays real domestic violence survivors

Two renowned artists portray a strong, resilient, relatable abuse survivor

International art exhibit in San Antonio portrays real domestic violence survivors

SAN ANTONIO – Two renowned artists have chosen to exhibit their emotional paintings in San Antonio, where domestic abuse is a key issue.

Dr. Carola Salvi lives in the worlds of both science and art.

“I grew up being exposed to art and always loved it,” she said.

She studied psychology and eventually got a Ph.D. in neuroscience to study creativity. She now works in the psychology department of UT Austin’s Dell Medical School.

“To study PTSD, trauma and memory, study problem-solving and its connections to emotions,” Salvi said.

That work led her to interview domestic violence survivors.

“I started painting all of these stories because I kept thinking about all of their emotions. What’s the effect of trauma in their life in their memory, and how that’s connected to the center of emotion?” she said.

Those paintings turned into a collection that will soon become an exhibit at the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

The paintings, all of which appear to be the same woman, are painted in black with long eyelashes.

“An anonymous lady that represents all the people that are victims of domestic violence -- this lady with black hair has just finished crying, so the eyelashes are sticking. In the paintings, she’s not crying anymore, conveying a sense of dignity. ‘I won’t let my abuser break me,’” Salvi explained.

Each picture depicts a different emotion: anger, grit, and strength.

This year, Salvi connected with decades-long artist Dax Norman, who teaches art at UT Austin, to create The Power of the Other Hand collection.

Norman was inspired by Salvi’s collection and added to the originals the psychological aspect -- what’s in the survivor’s mind.

“By deconstructing her image, there’s sort of this depth to that portrait of that character. It’s almost like an X-ray,” Norman said.

“Some of them are horrifying because they are portraying the kind of monsters that live in people who are experiencing trauma,” Salvi added.

They chose to begin their moving exhibit in San Antonio because of the massive domestic violence problem and its work to address it.

One in three women in Bexar County will experience domestic violence. Family Violence Prevention Services, which runs the Battered Women and Children’s Shelter, works daily to serve those victims.

“This art exhibits the defiance, strength, the boldness. It represents them as the survivors they are -- the difference between victim and survivor,” said Christina Campos, director of Community Integrated Services for FVPS.

Campos works with survivors every day and believes this type of art can educate those who have not been abused while bringing power to those who have.

“Reframing not just the world’s view of you but also your view of yourself if you’ve experienced violence,” Campos said.

Breaking that victim stigma can inspire a survivor to finally reach for help or a friend to continue offering support.

“It’s isolation. So when survivors become isolated from family, from friends, from the community, and lack that support system, it’s so difficult to achieve independence and safety,” Campos explained.

Norman hopes his art will inspire survivors to become artists themselves.

“I think art has these amazing healing properties,” Norman said.

The exhibit viewing is Friday, May 20, from 6 - 8:30 p.m. at the Witte Museum.

Fifty percent of anything purchased will be donated to the Family Violence Prevention Services and Battered Women and Children’s Shelter.

The paintings and prints will be available to purchase along with merchandise, including clothing, stickers, and even the red hoop earrings that appear in many paintings.

Tickets are available on the FVPS website. After the exhibit, the artists’ website will allow people to purchase all the items online.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there is a list of resources on KSAT’s domestic violence page.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233. You can also text START to 88788, or safely visit the website.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.