An ‘Unconventional Apology’: Interview with Chantal

1. What sparked your project, The Unconventional Project? And could you tell us a little bit about what the project does?

Unconventional Apology Project (UAP) was sparked by a tragedy in my family. (Trigger warning: this interview contains a story of domestic abuse and violence from the ‘read more’ tag).

Image courtesy of the Unconventional Apology Project

My grandmother, Mableine Nelson Barlow, was shot and killed by my grandfather during a drunken rage in 1975 in Compton, CA. She was killed at the age of 36, 2 days after her divorce was finalised, leaving 7 children motherless. My grandfather was allowed back in the family after becoming sober and religious, but his acceptance came at the expense of my grandmother’s memory. I never heard about who she was or any details about her death until my father told me when I turned 16. I remained conflicted for years because up until that point, I had only known him as my loving grandfather.

My grandfather loved taking pictures of the family and had thousands of photos of us, while I only have a few photos of my grandmother’s life. In 2013, he passed and left me his camera. There was something about having one of his prized possessions and knowing what happened to my grandmother that compelled me to do something powerful with it.

After months of sitting with the camera, I came up with the idea for Unconventional Apology Project and released my own portrait and story first. At its core, the Project honours my grandmother. All of the imagery is symbolic: the participants wear blue, which was her favourite colour. I’m also taking 36 portraits in honour of her age when she was killed.

I am using the Project as a method to shift the global conversation on domestic violence by being survivor centric—focusing on the first-hand experiences of survivors to educate and inspire the public and those who have or are experiencing domestic violence. It was important to me to show and present survivors as their whole selves, rather than perpetually in the cycle of abuse. It serves as a beacon of hope to others that life can continue and be positive even after a toxic relationship.

2. What are your plans for 2017?

UAP is still facilitating portrait and interview sessions; we have 7 out of the 36 portraits left and will continue through the year to finish them. I will also be campaigning and organising our groundbreaking domestic violence documentary and immersive exhibit.

3. Like your project, Cooking Circles is all about women and bringing recognition to their lived experiences and stories. Can you talk about what you hope your photos and stories change in the public sphere?

I hope to create a climate that allows survivors to feel like there is space for living their truths; this includes the pain, happiness and anything in between. I believe there is room for all of it. After reading the stories, it’s clear that domestic violence has many intricacies—dispelling many assumptions on domestic violence.

It’s impossible to put any of the participants in a box, but one thing everyone has in common is the desire to release, reclaim and empower another person with their story. Putting a literal face to domestic violence adds an element of emotional attachment, something statistics often don’t do. For many, it’s not enough to hear that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States are impacted by domestic violence. The current argument is that these numbers should actually be higher due to vast underreporting. This is truly a frightening epidemic.

4. If women in Australia are interested to get involved in and support your work, what can they do?

We encourage anyone who feels moved by Unconventional Apology Project to share it with their family and network, “like” and follow us on all of our social media accounts, and sign up for our newsletter. We also have an ongoing social media campaign that we kicked off during Domestic Violence Awareness Month called “#LoveIsMe” where we ask people to film themselves answering the question: “What is your definition of love, and how does that love feel?” They simply tag us on social media so that we can share their meaning of what healthy love feels like for them.

You can find out more about the Unconventional Apology Project on their website

Thank you Chantal for speaking to Heidi in December 2016 for this interview


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