Chicks Chat with..
Imogen Paton; Mother, Artist, Fundraiser, Campaigner and Founder of Arts Against Abuse. A wonderful Arts based Organisation working closely with Solace Women’s Aid. Imogen works tirelessly throughout the UK attending seminars, events, workshops and festivals addressing the stigma around discussing domestic abuse. We at Those London Chicks are extremely pleased Imogen Paton has taken the time out of her busy schedule to chat with us and share her story.
What propelled you to start the organisation Arts Against Abuse?
The short answer to that is simply having been a victim myself and realising how many people suffer similarly in silence. The longer answer: I met my ex partner when I was a vulnerable single mother of two, he had convinced me to sell my flat and invest the money into “business ideas” for our future and I’d lost £180,000.00 within 8 months. The more heavily pregnant I became with his child, the worse the violence got and the cycle of not being able to voice an opinion for fear of physical attack escalated. It was all I could do to watch all my money disappear and try to keep myself and my family safe. Two weeks before our son was due to be born, he took the white 1968 Chevrolet impala and crashed it (after a night awful events) and then when our son was just one day old, he hit me whilst I was holding our newborn and I knew then it was never going to change. Although it sounds like something that would only happen in a movie, our relationship ended the next day as he sat in front of me explaining how he would kill me and unveiling a plan to frame my death as suicide. I was rescued from the house and ran away with my three-day-old infant.
The car was one of 5 vehicles my ex encouraged me to buy and ship from the states. After escaping the abusive relationship, it was quite literally the only thing I had left apart from my life and health and that of my children. I wanted to give back to the services that had helped me and so initially considered selling it for parts and donating the money to help provide support for other victims, but I knew I could use my creativity to do more. Looking at this smashed up muscle car was incredibly painful for me but it was also a very powerful visual symbol of destruction and I knew I could use it somehow as a tool to raise awareness. I started the Bad Karma Impala project in November 2015 when my son was 8 months old.
You work closely with London based Solace Women’s Aid. Why this particular charity?
Solace Women’s Aid were the organisation that helped me overcome my trauma and its knock on effects by educating me that what I had experienced was in fact something that one in three women experience in some form within their lifetimes and one in every seven men. These statistics mean that we are all affected, even if we don’t realise it, we all know somebody, even if we can’t identify them. Solace offered me free courses as well as practical support in finding a refuge, changing the locks and legal advice, but most importantly they understood how I could love someone who could treat me so badly, the mental side, which was something that both the police and social workers failed to do. This understanding was what prevented me from going back and kept me safe.
A predominantly government funded organisation and with cuts to women’s services currently at an all time high and the rate of abuse on the rise, I wanted to help ensure that other people got the same level of services that I received and more lives could be helped. I wanted to work on a grass roots level, support for the people from the people, uniting people through their common misconceptions and also shared experiences.
There are many complexities involved with the issue of Domestic abuse, what are the main messages you want to convey?
I want people to be made aware that there is far more to domestic abuse than just the violence commonly associated with it. I also want victims to feel that it is possible to leave abuse behind for good with the right support and education. I want people to realize that asking naïve questions like “why didn’t you leave” is effective to blaming the victim for staying when there is little or no understanding of what they were experiencing, and that nobody is responsible for abuse but the perpetrator. Finally, I want male victims to know that just because they face potential ridicule and then on top of that a distinct lack of tailored services, there are still people fighting their corner and for their voices to be heard. I have two sons and am fully aware that there will always be the possibility of one of them experiencing abuse and it would pain me deeply to know that there would be so little support out there for them so I am determined to change that.
For those who may not be familiar with Bad Karma Impala explain what it is and how it fits into Arts Against Abuse umbrella?
The Bad Karma Impala is a community interactive art-car that is a visual metaphor for the car crash that life can easily become through domestic abuse, but also delivers the message that abuse is not the end of the road. It is not simply a instillation, it is also a relic from my own abusive relationship, a representation of both the physical abuse I suffered at the hands of my ex partner, but also the mental and financial abuse.
Art is an extremely powerful way of getting into the hearts and minds of others inorder to affect change. As an artist you’ve chose a rather unique way of utilising your gift, how did you come up with the idea of the Bad Karma Impala?
As a practicing visual artist with a background in painting, art had always been not only a great love of mine, but also the language I used to best communicate ideas. The smashed Chevy was instantly a piece of sculpture in my mind and the more the idea progressed into an interactive community instillation, the more apparent it became that the art element was going to be the part that would allow everyone to come together and partake in their own way. Using mark making with paint pens meant that the project could be totally inclusive, embracing all abilities, ages, temperaments, backgrounds and most importantly experiences and feelings.
Another huge factor was that I was very clear my message had to be one of looking forwards and encouraging better futures post abuse and by transforming this battered car into one covered in colour and positivity, I was sending out an uplifting, vibrant concept in what is normally a topic shrouded in secrecy and left to thrive in the dark.
I heard about The Bad Karma Impala from a friend who had attended a festival she was so moved by you and the idea of the car! It certainly facilitates conversation around this issue, thought provoking too. What sort of responses are you receiving from people at these types of events?
I love the fact that because of its unusual nature the project attracts people who would otherwise run in the opposite direction from a conversation about abuse (for a multitude of reasons). Its great for appealing especially to men (with the muscle car draw) and children (with the art element) all of whom are often the forgotten victims. Its only because people are unaware of what the project is about initially that it allows me to surprise them when they ask questions and therefore the impact to be greater and the possibility of dialogue to be instigated. Of course it is up to the individual how they choose to interact (if at all) but the majority of the time the response is incredible.
People are moved, shocked, touched and comforted. There have been many tears, many displays of broken lives and most of all many conversations full of hope and the feeling of being thankful. In my wildest dreams I thought at best this project would be a platform for conversation, but the reality has blown my mind. The ones that stick most in my head are:
An anonymous email I received for a woman who told me that when I was having a conversation with her, she was actually standing next to the person who was abusing her.
A person who wrote to me saying that the project was the first time her partners children had been able to talk about the abuse they had suffered.
A woman who came up to me and thanked me for changing her and her daughters life and that they had now been free of abuse for 6 months.
And finally, a man who interacted with the project but struggled with words. He returned the next day with a thank you card having left his abusive wife of 30 years that night. The card read “never again will I let this happen to me, I know I am worth so much more”.
In terms of the work that you do, what has been your ‘crowning moment’ so far?
On a selfish level, this project has given me a purpose and reason to live beyond my personal loved ones alone. I find it hard to believe that I have been lucky enough to find the perfect combination of my interests, art, helping others and feeling useful. It has made my life worth living, truly in that it goes beyond the obvious joys of the project itself, it has also allowed me to be a role model to my children and imprint in them that no matter what adversities you face, there is ALWAYS a way to turn it around.
What are your long term hopes for Arts Against Abuse?
I want to see the money come rolling in for domestic abuse services. I want to grow my current two cars into a fleet of charity art cars, each one supporting a different aspect of the abuse services remit (perpetrator programs, refuges, education and support services).
Once the Cars for Causes project is successfully proceeding, I want to start my own foundation culminating in the opening of my own “peoples refuge” for all people escaping abuse and needing a fresh start and that empowering boost to start again with pride, confidence and a smile.
As part of Arts Against Abuse you have another project called I Own Me. Can you share with us what this entails?
“I Own Me” is a grassroots “Celebrity” poster campaign in aid of Solace Women’s Aid and Arts Against Abuse.
Instead of just another bruised eye, trauma based image directed at educating the public on violent abuse, this campaign seeks to empower those that already know how awful and varied abuse is; the victims themselves. cI want to offer a sense of hope that there is life after abuse. Aimed at young adults and those most influenced by the media and celebrity, the campaign promotes a unique and inspiring vision of women reclaiming their independence and right to freedom of choice and thought. I wanted to offer a wider picture, cast a bigger net of my message, to all those who are struggling but can’t or don’t just stumble across the Cars for Causes project.
You suffered from PTSD as a result of what you went through. What did that look for you, and how did/are you dealing with it?
I remember as if it were yesterday, the nights when I would lie in bed sweating as my newborn lay next to me, questions running through my head “which child should I save first when he comes for me? Do I grab the baby, the helpless infant he would want or do I run to the other room to protect my two other children, the ones that he would potentially be more cruel to?” I remember the constant jumping at every shadow of a leaf blowing in the dark, the constant paranoia, which road was safe to walk down, the panic that followed, I remember literally running home with my baby strapped to my chest, desperate to get behind a closed door. I remember not ever using a pushchair because it was too dangerous, something that could be grabbed out of my hands, I needed my baby constantly strapped to me.
The only things that healed me of that physical, reactive trauma were moving home enough times to not leave a trace, gaining an education of the tactics perpetrators use, and finally time.
Statistically, 1 in 3 women experience some form of Domestic Abuse in the UK. What advice would you give to anyone who might be reading this who is suffering domestic abuse?
Even if everything feels utterly helpless, as if there was no wall left to crumble of any deeper despair in which to sink, remember that there is ALWAYS possibility for change both practically and mentally. How you feel is okay and normal. You are understood and you are allowed to love freely. There is no shame in loving someone no matter their actions, there is only shame in choosing to willingly abuse someone. The only regret you should ever have is not being kind to yourself and sometimes that means walking away. You may have to get creative, escaping such mental and physical clutches can seem beyond daunting and impossible, but you can find a way, you can do this!
With that in mind, what would you propose as an appropriate course of action for someone who has a loved one they suspect or know is in an abusive relationship?
In my opinion, the best support you can offer is the understanding that somebody will not want to leave an abusive situation. Don’t tell them why their partner is awful or a looser, that’s not going to help. They already know the actions against them are wrong but their confidence will be so damaged that the first and best step is to help that person recognize their own worth. By supporting that persons development, they are far more likely to find the strength to leave and stay away.
Thank you so much Imogen, We at Those London Chicks think you are amazing to turn such a negative into a positive with the dedicated work that you do. Long may you continue!!
Interview by Karen Bryson
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this interview and need help please call:
Solace Women’s Aid on 0800 802 5565
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