The Bird Girls Project by Lisa Hunt-Wotton
In 2016, seventy-three women were killed by ‘acts of violence’. ‘The Bird Girls Project’ is a visual response to the horror of female deaths in Australia. The Bird Girls Project was birthed from a desire to provoke awareness about the death of women by acts of violence. The aim is to create a visible display that features the total of female lives lost to acts of violence over one year.
There are 73 hand drawn portraits of faceless women, with one portrait representing each life lost. Feminine hairstyles and birds feature in each portrait. Drawing from folktale the birds nest in the girls’ hair, hover over their shoulders or circle above their heads. Using mythological symbolism, the birds depict images like; the watchman, the guardian or the one who sounds the alarm.
Alisa Tanaka-King is a Melbourne based artist. Her work is frequently non-traditional in form, combining installation and the drawn line with live performance. Alisa is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts. She has also completed a Bachelor of Fine Art and a Graduate Diploma of Performance Creation.
White Ribbon is a global initiative to prevent men’s violence against women. Challenged by the White Ribbon Oath: “I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women.” Alisa was compelled to create The Bird Girls Project.
‘I thought as an artist, how I could give a voice to those lives lost? How could I illustrate the shocking statistics? What could I do to help break the silence?’
The Bird Girls Project was birthed from a desire to provoke awareness about the death of women by acts of violence and Alisa’s own personal conviction to speak out and act.
This is a excerpt from a blog that Alisa wrote recently:
In my studio, I have a list.
It is a list of numbers, of deaths they have occurred. Some of them have names next to them – titles of the portraits that have been completed. The list of numbers unfortunately grows at a faster rate than the list of finished portraits. I often wonder if it is possible to catch up.
Sometimes I am frustrated and I walk into the studio and tell myself that I’m just going to pump out a few portraits really quickly.
But I can’t.
It’s not how this project works.
I make a cup of tea.
I carefully choose hairstyles and birds that match and create interesting and evocative images.
I peg paper to my drawing board and take moment before I begin.
When I start to draw, the experience changes.
I go from being horrified at the act committed, to sitting with the woman who I’ve never met, who I will never meet, and wondering how I will do her justice.
It is important to know that the portraits drawn are not meant to reflect the physicality of the victims they portray. I draw to honor the life lost, but I also draw to illustrate the infinite characteristics of ‘woman’ that exist in our society.
Some drawings take me longer than others, this usually depends on two things:
– my head space and level of focus at the time
– the detail of the birds in the drawing
Most of the portraits take about 4 or 5 hours to draw, the longest would be about 7.
The detail is fairly intricate, and I take breaks by walking in the garden surrounding my studio, which is full of native birds and plants.
I always draw the hair first, the birds second, and the clothing or accessories last. This hasn’t been a conscious decision, but reflecting on how I’ve created the portraits thus far has made me realise that this has been the case for every single one.
The hair and birds are drawn in ball point pen. Nothing fancy – good old fashioned, everyday biro. The clothing and accessories are drawn in Indian ink.
When I finish, I peg the completed work on the wall next to my drawing board. She will stay there and watch me draw the next portrait. Perhaps it is foolish, but that way, none of us feel alone.
The scale of the portraits is important. It is difficult to tell from the photographs, so I have included some images of the work in the studio, to give some context and insight into their creation.
Earlier this year I grappled with the implications of the White Ribbon Day oath I had taken alongside many friends and colleagues.
I can confidently say I have never committed acts of violence against women. I can confidently say I have never excused acts of violence against women. I cannot confidently say that I have never remained silent about acts of violence against women.
I do wonder about others who have taken oath. Surely someone else must have found themselves in the same position as me? Feeling unsure if speaking up was the right thing to do. Not knowing how to respond. Understanding that sometimes silence feels like the easiest option.
There is a diabolical lack of awareness of how extreme violence against women is engrained in Australian culture, and only we as a society can change that. A woman in Australia is more likely to be killed in her own home by her male partner than anyone else or by anyone else. Violence against women is not something that is specific to an age group, culture, social class or geographical location. It affects all cross sections of society, and remains one of the most silenced problems in the community.
When I speak with people about The Bird Girls project, they are horrified at the number of women killed to date (73) while I am shocked at the lack of publicity around this figure. Our undeniable history of silencing women continues – in the media, with our politicians, in our day to day conversations.
So why aren’t we having these conversations? Why aren’t we educating society, our children, our workplaces and our elderly?
Nothing is achieved by remaining silent, if nothing else, the women who have lost their lives deserve to be heard in death. As the portraits stack up, I am surprised and horrified at the weight of that many sheets of paper. As the year draws to an end and seems to spiral into hectic chaos, I am exhausted at the ever growing tally of dead women, and with each one I think “surely that must be it for the year?”
In any other circumstance, this sort of death toll would be labeled an epidemic. So why is it we are ignoring these heinous acts against women? Don’t confirm to our history of silence, because with the figures as they stand, the next life lost could very easily be someone who you know.
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