Jewish Journal

T-Shirts Tell Tales of Domestic Violence

by Sharon Schatz Rosenthal

October 6, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Lisa Kapler remembers the day her high school boyfriend deliberately bit her cheek until it bled.

He thought it was funny, said the 29-year-old San Fernando Valley resident, her tone a combination of perplexity and the frankness one might use with a close friend. Soon, her beau's odd behavior escalated into weekly acts of violence and intimidation, from punching, hitting and choking to pulling a knife and threatening to hurt Kapler's family. She remained in the relationship for three years.

After staying silent for many years, Kapler became an advocate against domestic abuse. Her marriage to Gabe Kapler, an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox and a Los Angeles native, has given her a platform to share her story nationwide. Locally, Kapler is spokeswoman for The Clothesline Project, an exhibit of original T-shirt art by survivors of domestic violence. The artwork will be on display at The Jewish Federation's Bell Family Gallery this month in recognition of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The artwork was created by women and children who've used the shelter run by the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Los Angeles. The confidential program provides comprehensive services to victims of domestic violence, be it physical, verbal, sexual or emotional abuse. The artists are not named; in some cases, they need to remain anonymous.

Domestic violence is more pervasive than many realize. About 31 percent of women in the United States reported being physically or sexually abused by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives, according to a 1998 Commonwealth Fund survey. Each year, an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence by family members against their mothers or female caretakers, concluded a report of the American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family.

Besides JFS, the sponsors include The Jewish Federation and the Gabe Kapler Foundation. The exhibit was inspired by the original 1990 Clothesline Project in Hyannis, Mass.

The process of creating the artwork ... allows the survivors and the children to express feelings that they might not be able to express verbally, said Karen Rosenthal, director of Shelter Services with JFS/Family Violence Project. I think it's a very empowering process.

Using multicolored fabric, thread, paper, glue, paint, markers, rhinestones and feathers, survivors express feelings and share stories through art. One piece depicts a large red heart surrounded by smaller hearts and several sets of eyes.

The eyes represent how I felt, reads the anonymous survivor's written description of her project. He would watch my every move.

Scattered among shirt's decorations are evocative words like fear and baby crying. And, I'm sorry, which the artist wrote is ... what he would tell me after he hit me.

The T-shirts are displayed on a clothesline, along with silhouettes of women and children hanging laundry. In addition to the artist's descriptions, the exhibit contains information about domestic violence.

We want it to be a wakeup call, but also something that's informative, said Shari Davis, exhibit curator.

Visitors can write messages on paper T-shirts provided at the exhibit. The notes will be taken to families currently living in the shelters.

Becoming an advocate against domestic violence has helped Kapler to heal. As a survivor, Kapler feels a responsibility to share her story.

We have to teach our young girls and guys [about domestic violence] so they can be prepared for it. At age 14, I was not prepared for it, said the mother of two.

Kapler said that The Clothesline Project helps drive the message home for the community: When you hear the abuse statistics, it doesn't move you. But when you read those T-shirts and you can feel what abuse does, it's a gift to our society.

The Clothesline Project will run from Oct. 11-Dec. 31 at Bell Family Gallery at The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Free. For information, contact Sherri Kadovitz at (323) 761-8800, Ext. 1250.

For more information on The Clothesline Project, go to www.clotheslineproject.org.


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