Tuesday 11 February 2020

'Women @the Well,' 2019 a pot from 'And The Door Opened.'

'Women @the Well,' 2019,  50 h x 32 w cms.
Hand built earthenware pot, slip-painted inside and out with sgraffito drawing through the slip. Smashed with a hammer after the first firing - an uncomfortable process - avoiding hitting any of the women, just going for the bits in between. Shards collected up and glazed, then fired and the pieces reassembled with some left out so the viewer can glimpse the images inside. Broken edges gilded in gold leaf.

About the pot
'Women @the Well,' the eponymous pot for the project, is based on an account given to me by the organisation I'm working with, (W@W).
The account had a strong sense of the past being shut away, for now, anyway. The woman describes her young life, raised in the care system, and being on the streets at an early age, being prostituted to get money for drugs for the pimp, (though she, herself was not using them to begin with,) street homeless and, in the end, in and out of prison. She describes herself as 'destitute, dirty and down.' Now she is being supported by W@W where she gets clean clothes, a hot meal and has a 'named worker.' That connection with a support worker whose name she knows and who knows her name seemed absolutely vital in this account. Here she was treated as fully human, perhaps for the first time in her young adult life. She was learning some basic skills, she had help to find housing - appropriated for her needs. In all the accounts I have read there is a powerful sense of separation  - an almost impregnable wall - between the 'world of the prostituted and the rest of the world.' This woman seems to be starting to breach that wall, starting to feel part of the world. Knowing another woman's name - a professional woman, not someone in the prostituted world - and her own name being known to her 'named worker,' was central to that process. She is also contacting family - there is one, somewhere.

The images you see on the pot are of her with her worker at W@W. They're all fictional images. I had to imagine her there and imagine what she might look like. Confidentiality is key to success so this is why I'm working with prepared accounts. I have shut her past away inside the pot but it appears in the cracks from time to time. The other common thread in all the accounts is trauma. These are women grossly abused and exploited, often from an early age, and exposed to persistent violence and brutality. Recovery from trauma is long process and rarely complete. Sex trade survivors remain vulnerable to further pressure. The broken pot, mended, but not fully, is a metaphor for surviving sexual violence and exploitation. It is not easy to do justice to these accounts and I did not want to avoid the shattering experiences these women had endured but nor did I want to reproduce the violence in pictures. Breaking and rebuilding the pot was the best approach. It represents the slow recovery and the lasting vulnerability while also honouring the courage of the women to survive and find different lives.

Photo credit: Sylvain Deleu.

Women @the Well, (W@W,) is a women-only service located in Kings Cross dedicated to supporting women whose lives are affected, or at risk of being affected, by prostitution. It also provides support to exit prostitution. 

‘And The Door Opened, is a series of events with displays of Claudia’s pots, with talks and demonstrations that illustrate the lives of the women supported by W@W.

The aim is to enhance the public’s understanding of what prostitution is, to name the abuse and exploitation, and to show that, with the right support, girls and women do not need to live and die exploited in the sex trade – there are ways out.