When most people think of a clothesline they probably envision fresh laundry being held up with wooden clothespins and swaying in the breeze on a warm sunny day.
But there is another type of clothesline that is drawing attention, The Clothesline Project which is spreading its message across the country: “Break the Silence of Violence.”
It’s a colorful display of T-shirts dedicated to raising awareness about violence in society.
These aren’t your typical T-shirts but those created by survivors of violence, or in honor of a person who has experienced some form of violence.
According to the project’s website, “Each T-shirt reflects the personal experience of its creator and may occasionally have some graphic material on them. This may include swear words, explicit violent or sexual descriptions of the attack, or other statements that reflect the emotions and reality the individual experienced.”
Its aim is:
- Create awareness of the experiences of victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
- Assist in the healing process for people who have lost a loved one or are survivors of violence.
- Educate and raise society’s awareness of the problem of sexual and domestic violence.
- Provide a nationwide network of support and information for other communities starting their own Clothesline Project.
The initial Clothesline Project started in Hyannis, Mass., in 1990 when a member of the Cape Cod’s Women’s Defense Agenda “learned that during the same time 58,000 soldiers were killed in the Vietnam War, 51,000 U.S. women were killed by the men who claimed to love them.”
The numbers motivated the women’s group to start a program that would call attention to the issue of violence against women.
One of those women, visual artist Rachel Carey-Harper, came up with hanging color-coded T-shirts on a clothesline and showing them in a public place where they would bring light to the issue.
The Clothesline Project has been going strong ever since and can often be seen Coast to Coast.
Shirts of Color
The T-shirts are never censored, and each color has a specific meaning, according to the project’s website.
- White: People who have died because of violence.
- Yellow: Survivors of physical assault and/or domestic violence.
- Red: Survivors of rape or sexual assault.
- Pink: Survivors of rape or sexual assault.
- Orange: Survivors of rape or sexual assault.
- Blue: Survivors of incest or childhood sexual abuse.
- Green: Survivors of incest or childhood sexual abuse.
- Purple: Survivors of attacks suffered due to perceived sexual orientation.
- Brown: Survivors of emotional, spiritual, or verbal abuse.
- Black: For those disabled as the result of an attack or assaulted because of a disability.
- Gray: Survivors of emotional, spiritual, or verbal abuse.
T-Shirts on Display
One location where the shirts have been displayed each year since 1998 is presented by UVU’s Center for Social Impact and UVU’s Office of Student Life at Utah Valley University.
Over the past 5 years, around 30-50 shirts have been added to the collection that is estimated to be more than 2,000 shirts.
At the University Indiana of Pennsylvania shirts created by members of the Indiana and IUP communities in the past on display have read:
“I can wash off what you did to me,” and “Don’t Touch I am Not Your Property,” and “It Wasn’t Your Fault You’re Just a Kid.”
At some locations when The Clothesline Project is on exhibit participants may hear three distinct sounds. Each sound represents the frequency of certain tactics.
For example, a gong means someone is being battered, a whilst blown means a rape is being reported; however, most rapes are not reported stats tell us.
And lastly when a bell is rung this means someone has died in a violent attack.
To learn more about the national network, visit the Clothesline Project website.