The #MeToo movement shines a light on sexual and gender-based violence in workplaces, schools, and other public settings, but abuse at home is still largely hidden. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence estimates close to 20 people per minute are physically abused by their partners in the United States. Intimate partner abuse spans the gender spectrum, but much of it is rooted in misogyny. As autocracies rise, so does violence against women.
In “Wonder Women Now,” curated by artist Anne Plaisance at Reservoir Church’s Ministry Center, artists from around the world take an unflinching look at domestic violence. It’s the first iteration of a project Plaisance hopes to expand. Ultimately, she said in an interview, it will be an installation in the format of a house, with each room representing an emotional facet of abuse.
This show is the living room — a home’s most public-facing space — installed in a lounge at the church. It’s quite welcoming until you pay attention. Plaisance has placed little clues around the space, such as perfume bottles labeled with tactics of domination: “gaslight,” “threat,” “love bomb.” The setting is cozy and the art unsettling, creating a sense of propriety barely shrouding quiet threat.
Congolese artist Baudouin Mouanda portrays that tension in “Ciel de saison” (or “seasonal sky”), photographs of families standing for formal portraits in flooded living rooms. The disaster can’t be ignored, yet his subjects gather themselves to pose as if nothing is wrong. From a distance, British artist Lidia Lidia’s “Girls’ World” photos of dioramas with dolls are all pretty pink fun, but look closely and you’ll see Ken sneering at Barbie as she nurses a baby, or kicking her as children cower.
Plaisance taught art at a Cambridge domestic violence shelter. She invited residents and staff to dress as their own version of Wonder Woman for a photo portrait. Only one woman here wears a red bustier, but each takes a proud stance, claiming her power. These images are here, too, little seeds of hope.
The fraught dynamic portrayed in “Wonder Women Now” is sorrowful, and the work Plaisance and these artists do is crucial. As with #MeToo, the more we recognize this beast, the more we can call it to heel.
WONDER WOMEN NOW
At Ministry Center at Reservoir Church, 13 Notre Dame Ave., Cambridge, through March 19. https://wonderwomennow.com