Ending Sexual Assault in Indiana, One Postcard at a Time

The Clothesline Project asks women to share their stories of sexual violence.

More than 1.5 million Hoosiers report having been raped or sexually assaulted, according to the Indiana State Department of Health. That’s nearly double the number of people who packed the Indiana State Fairgrounds for 17 days this summer—and enough to fill Lucas Oil Stadium nearly 22 times.

The worst part? The actual number is likely much higher. 

An immersive art installation first staged by Mexican artist Mónica Mayer at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City in 1978 wants to bring those stories out into the open. A year-long Indiana iteration of the project, called “El Tendedero/The Clothesline,” aims to erase the stigma around survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, by sharing their stories.

Participants are invited to anonymously answer questions on pink postcards like “Have you ever experienced sexual violence or harassment? What happened?” and “Where do you feel safe? Why?” 

They can then clip their cards to a clothesline (a symbol of a traditional feminine role) that will travel to museums, stages, and workshops around the state for the next year. In a nod to Mayer’s Mexican roots, prompts are provided in English and Spanish, underscoring the importance of including Latinx voices in the conversations.

But the mosaic of resilience isn’t just geared toward survivors. Women4Change Indiana and the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault, the organizations heading the project, want to use the stories they collect to lobby lawmakers to prioritize the safety of women. They hope to raise awareness while providing a platform for the storytellers, creating allies who will advocate for stronger sexual assault laws in the state.

“Participants are invited to anonymously answer questions on pink postcards like ‘Have you ever experienced sexual violence or harassment? What happened?’ and ‘Where do you feel safe? Why?'”

The clothesline’s itinerary for the next year is packed, from performances by female actors at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, and Fonseca Theater throughout the winter and spring to an exhibition of work by female Hoosier artists and advocates at the Indiana State Museum next summer. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the Harrison Center for the Arts, the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI, and the Madam Walker Legacy Center are also among the 28 organizations that have signed on to host events.

Mayer, the Mexican artist who created the first clothesline more than four decades ago, will kick off the project with a free talk about feminist art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30. She’ll return Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 to lead day-long workshops for artists and activists to discuss the goals and challenges of creating political art.

Highlights of the 2020 programming lineup also include a reading of Rachel Bykowski’s play Tight End at the Phoenix Theatre Jan. 15, which tells the story of a female high school student who grapples with the challenges of playing alongside the guys on her school’s football team; a curator’s talk at the Eiteljorg Museum April 3 showcasing a quilt honoring missing and murdered indigenous women; and a series of Indiana Writers Center workshops that focus on women’s stories, in genres from memoir to poetry. 

Following a fall filled with book discussions, panels, and an interfaith healing service for survivors of sexual assault, the project will wrap in November 2020 with a photography exhibit at Gallery 924 documenting the clothesline’s year barnstorming the state.

An Invitation to Participate

While clotheslines have been erected in cities from Mexico to Washington, D.C., the Indiana project is believed to be the first time a clothesline has traveled to multiple venues in one community. Groups can contact Women4Change Indiana to reserve the traveling clothesline — or simply create one of their own, Jen Schmits Thomas, the project’s public relations manager, told Indy Maven. And people who can’t make it to an event will still have the opportunity to share their stories. 

“Anyone who wants to participate can print a postcard from the website and send it to us,” Schmits Thomas added. 

The postcards will be collected and displayed March 5 during a Sexual Assault Awareness Month event at the Indiana Statehouse. For two weeks, clotheslines stretching across the South Atrium will unite the voices of survivors and witnesses, in what organizers hope will be a visual reminder for lawmakers of the prevalence of sexual assault in the state. 

Since the project was announced in late September, approximately 135 people from 21 counties have completed postcards. The goal is to generate responses from all 92. 

Why?

“Sexual assault is happening everywhere,” Schmits Thomas said. 

For more information on The Clothesline visit www.women4changeindiana.org.


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