Sunday Conversation with Jessica Caldas

Performance artists educate about domestic violence

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Atlanta artist Jessica Caldas and her artist friends are putting on a short, three-woman daily performance piece every day this month at different locations around Atlanta — on the Beltline, at a MARTA station, in a park and anywhere else people gather. The project, called #3everyday, is designed to draw attention to the fact that three women in this country die every day from domestic violence. Caldas talks with the AJC about the ambitious project that she hopes will prevent another woman from becoming a statistic.

Q: Is there something about domestic violence that particularly interests you?

A: I care a lot about the issue. I also worked for three years at the Safe Families Office at the Fulton County courthouse with victims filing for temporary protective orders. I helped the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and Partnership Against Domestic Violence, which run that office, interview clients about what happened to them and translating that experience into a legal document. I continue to volunteer with the office.

Q: Are the victims primarily women?

A: They are overwhelmingly women but we see a lot of men as well as youth and elderly people. Domestic abuse is something that happens to all socio-economic levels, all education levels, all ethnicities, all races.

Q: Is the topic still taboo?

A: There have been more high profile cases, with sports stars and celebrities being subjected to more scrutiny. It does feel like domestic abuse is more and more in the spotlight and that is good. A lot of what I do is to create a space for conversation.

Q: Can you talk more about that?

A: The performance piece is based on the motions women make as they are preparing to leave their home. While the movements are happening, the three women performers alternate asking questions that a victim should not be asked, questions like “What did you do?” or “Why didn’t you leave?” That is the worst question to ever ask.

Q: Why?

A: There are so many barriers to leaving. Often victims understand intuitively, even if they don’t concretely, that the risk of injury or death goes up by 70 percent when you are trying to leave that situation. During the performance, the questions shift and become not about the victim but about the people and the society around the victim. Why do we let these things continue to happen?

There is also this repeated motif of, “I’m sorry,” that each performer repeats seven times. It takes a victim on average seven attempts before they will stay gone. “I’m sorry” is something I hear all the time from victims and it is heartbreaking. I am constantly trying to think of the best way to tell clients they don’t have to apologize to me.

Q: Is the project being funded?

A: It isn’t. I will perform every day but I have around 30 women and a couple of men volunteering to help me. Some are there to document the performances and some are there to engage with the audience. It is blowing my mind how much support I have gotten.

Q: Do you expect this project to bring about any change?

A: Obviously, it is not legislation or policy. It is the first time I am handing out collateral with statistics about the issue and organizations that do this work. There is an opportunity for people to learn something they didn’t know or to change their mind if they had a preconceived idea.