Cope-Art vs. Childhood Sexual Abuse


This installation is intended to confront male childhood sexual abuse and to raise awareness on mental health issues related to those experiences. 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 and many don’t speak on it. This work serves as a mediator for that conversation and the challenges we experience.

For me sexual abuse has been a lifelong event. From my first memories up until age 14 I experienced sexual abuse and childhood sexual grooming. It took too many years to realize that I was a victim and too many more to become a survivor. By confronting this trauma with my work I am bringing awareness to this issue at large. I am one of 21 million men who are dealing with these experiences and by creating dialogue through art about childhood sexual abuse I hope to foster support and awareness.

The installation exists in the boundaries of a white cube that is 24’x24’ with 12’ high walls. Before entering the space we are confronted with these words.

I wander
the hall of memory.
Searching for
where the fireflies
Lingering as the
dark water rises,
and the groomers

The only way to enter is through the hall of memory.

In the warm glow of the round lampshade overhead there is a door halfway down the hall locked away.

Through the keyhole we can see the fireflies swarming in the dim blue light.

They represent the hope that Mother always reminded me off. One night in my suicidal daze she woke me… she reminded me of those fireflies swarming on those dark nights. How she could go back and find them in that moment of dismay. She said, anytime you lose hope search for the fireflies. I began to realize that hope was locked away deep inside our minds and it was up to us to find it, and even when we did sometimes it could still be locked away.

At the end of the hall are two opposing doors.

On the left we witness the three groomers.

In a white room flooded with dark black water they sit atop three stools of staggered heights one short, one medium, one tall. The short stool is occupied by a young boy, behind him sits an older boy, and behind him sits an older man. In this room we find the groomers endlessly combing the hair before them. This performance represents the complexity of grooming, its incessant nature, and its conflict with desire and innocence.

Through the door on the right we enter into another white room. In it we find the pile of beds, recreated endlessly slowly replacing each recollection of trauma with a physical being to be dealt with externally.

The symbolism in creating these memories is referencing the process of dealing with trauma itself. It is a way to turn my psychological frustrations into physical frustrations in reality. They become objects to be confronted not only by me but also by the viewer in order to bring awareness to events that are often left unspoken.

Each element of Cope is bound by memory. Within each room memory begins to manifest in different ways. The Hallway is recreated from memory and is derived from the home that years of trauma occurred. By placing it into the context of the work I am creating an entryway into the psyche. Architecture, materials, stains, and construction have all been replicated. By re-fabricating architecture and objects from memories of a childhood of sexual abuse I create a physical catharsis. By making these objects and environments to deal with in reality I am asking the viewer to acknowledge the complexities of these issues through physical space.

Research studies have revealed that 16% of men, 1 in 6 boys, experience abusive or unwanted sexual contact before age 18 and are less likely to disclose those experiences than their female counterparts. For many the experiences are repressed and never dealt with. Mental health issues such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, suicide, and problems with intimacy become a daily battle and I have come to the conclusion that perhaps I am not the only one who needs to be heard… who needs to confront the repressed or unspoken.

I’m not the only one who has struggled; who’s been lost in self-destruction trying to decrypt the past. Attempting to separate what was from what is, questioning life in the same while. Dealing with a history of sexual abuse and trauma is difficult but I think it is important for people to find solace in the chaos of darkness. There is always hope, it is just locked away deep in our minds; this installation is an attempt to help others that may be struggling to find their way there.

Final Budget Cost:

The total cost for "Cope" was nearly $6000. The purpose of this GoFundMe is to recoup those expenses in order to continue my work as an artist by expanding on the themes and elements of Cope and to reestablish working capital that would support the touring and reinstallation of Cope at gallerys,  conferences and institutions around the world.

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Joseph Newsome
Nashville, TN

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