How This Organization Is Making Space For Black Women to Heal From Sexual Trauma

5 months ago 17
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In 2018, artist and photographer Deun Ivory became the first Black woman to win a VSCO Voices grant that asked applicants to create a photography project under the topic of “home.” She used the opportunity to tell the stories of 13 Black women from across the U.S. who had survived sexual violence, and who had submitted their stories to Ivory via email. “I wanted to have a wide range of experiences to explore to validate the point that, regardless of where the trauma fell on the spectrum, it was still worthy of being addressed,” Ivory says. She traveled across six states to document and interview each woman. The photo essay ended up being a traveling gallery, where Ivory displayed 24 x 36 framed images of the women, with an excerpt of the interview detailing their experiences, written on matte boards next to their photo. “Me talking with these women was so cathartic, and they all needed a space to share their stories as much as I did,” Ivory said. She called her work The Body: A Home for Love, and realized it was the start of something bigger.

Ivory—who has photographed for Glossier, CRWN Mag’s cover of Issa Rae, and has worked as the art director for Black Girl In Om—was inspired to create an organization by the same name in order to aid Black women in emotionally healing from bodily trauma. “When you think about Black women’s bodies, we deal with a lot of traumas and triggers and stigmatization and objectification,” Ivory says. There is a serious need for safe spaces where Black women are able to heal and process their trauma: 1 in 4 Black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18, and at least 20% of Black women are raped, a higher rate than other groups of women. The recent assault and tragic death of Black Lives Matter activist Oluwatoyin Salau’s throws the urgency of this issue into even greater relief.

Simi. Photographed by Deun Ivory.

This March, The Body: A Home For Love held their first event in L.A., called My Body, My Home, in partnership with Lunya. It featured a panel of wellness speakers (Lalah Delia, Koya Webb, Rikki Wright, and Victoria Banjo) and a photo installation. The team is now gearing up for the August launch of their virtual membership, The Homebody, which will give members access to group therapy, yoga classes, mindful movement classes, and affirmation writing sessions guided by wellness practitioners that span the likes of trauma-informed yoga teachers, life coaches, therapists, and meditation teachers. “Everything is centered around wellness, art, storytelling, and using those as mechanisms for healing,” Ivory said. The virtual offerings were supposed to launch next year, but Ivory wanted to help remedy the added isolation that survivors may be feeling amid COVID-19. “It’s important to have a space where survivors can connect with those who understand exactly what they’re going through.”

Because “healing shouldn’t come at any cost for those with trauma,” as Ivory put it, the membership is free or donation-based (like all of their events). “Everyone gets the same service. At the end of the day we want survivors to feel like this is specifically for them, regardless of socio-economic class or where they come from. You matter and you are worthy of this regardless of what you can or can’t bring to it.” The organization is currently volunteer-based, but Ivory hopes to build it into a non-profit business with a salaried staff.

Dark Bliss, 2017. Photographed by Deun Ivory.

A podcast is another one of Ivory’s ambitions, along with a one-day retreat that was postponed amid the pandemic. Ivory’s ultimate vision for the organization is to reach a global community. “When people think about the worthiness of Black women or healing through joy, or a sisterhood, or a place where [Black women can feel] I'm being nurtured and I'm being watered, I want them to think of The Body: A Home For Love.”

In the meantime, her go-to advice for dealing with triggers is to invest in self-care. She leans into prayer, breathing, and visualization. “As a visionary, it’s important for me to see my life outside of my current reality,” Ivory said. “Knowing that I have a choice in taking care of myself, nurturing myself, even in the middle of trauma, is a beautiful thing,” she added. “Resist the urge to judge yourself. It serves no purpose and it doesn’t serve you in any type of way. This is how you reclaim your peace and your power.”

Home, Abena, 2018. Photographed by Deun Ivory.

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