In summer 2020, young South Asian New Yorkers broke their silence and began sharing their stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence on social media. This wave of disclosure, called the "#MeToo" movement of the South Asian community by South Asian community organizations in New York City, triggered a national movement of South Asian community members, advocates, and leaders sharing their stories and demanding accountability for sexual assault and gender-based violence. This watershed moment inspired "May We Know Our Own Strength," a new interactive art installation from the NYC Commission on Human Rights and Public Artist in Residence Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya.
The only thing harder than suffering is suffering alone in silence. We each carry inside of us burdens, wounds, and heartaches that we might never reveal publicly. "May We Know" enables folks to share their vulnerability while maintaining anonymity. All New Yorkers who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence are invited to submit stories anonymously at MayWeKnow.NYC.
Each submission will immediately activate one of sixteen internet-connected printers and light a corresponding incandescent bulb, visible from a storefront window at 401 W. 14th Street, which was donated by building owner Taconic Partners, and in a 24-hour online livestream, creating a visual representation of how many stories are received at a given time. An organic pool of anger, grief, shame, doubt, hope, and other emotions will emerge from cascading ribbons of paper. At regular intervals, Phingbodhipakkiya will enter the installation and seat herself at the base of the growing heap, beginning a brief ritual to affirm human dignity and courage in the face of adversity. She will then weave these printed stories into a collection of intricate hanging paper sculptures, growing abstract shapes and natural textures, and affix them onto an arched trellis made of wood to create large, room-scale sculptures.
The powerful piece, will be on display from April 1, 2021 to May 15, 2021 at 401 W 14th Street in the Meatpacking District in partnership with the local Business Improvement District (BID).
“This installation is about the transformative power of collective healing. We’re experiencing a watershed moment where Asian youth are coming forward with their stories of sexual assault and gender-based violence. Their courage is truly remarkable. Experiencing assault can tear you into pieces on the inside, leaving you feeling helpless and alone. In those moments we can feel hollowed out, crumpled up, put in a box. Reduced to nothing more than a single strand. It takes compassion and community to find our way back, to piece together our shattered sense of self.
“In ‘May We Know Our Own Strength,’ I have created a space where private sorrow can still see the light of day. Where people can safely share their secrets and see them evolve before their eyes, getting folded, twisted, shredded and then sculpted and rebuilt into lush, overflowing, intricate vessels of hope and belonging. Through this installation we spin our strands of personal suffering into an unbreakable thread of courage and renewal and give our community a long-awaited moment of cathartic release."