Melanie Maria is a Dutch performance artist, director/choreographer, recently graduated from Bachelor Fine Art (BEAR) at ArtEZ University of the Arts Arnhem in The Netherlands, and a survivor of domestic abuse.
On November 20th, Melanie Maria will speak at Victim Support Europe’s Autumn Conference 2019 in Brussels, sharing her own experiences and highlighting the importance of educating young people about healthy relationships.
VSE: Most people know you as an artist, but you’ve also been an activist. How did you become Survivor Ambassador?
Melanie Maria: I am now almost a year and a half out of my abusive relationship. In these past year and a half, I experienced a lot of support by talking freely and being open with doctors, with social workers, with various experts and specialists, moreover, even just when talking to friends, family and strangers. Speaking openly about how mad and how sad I was because of what the abuser did to me and how mad and how sad I was with myself, made it all just real. I admit it was hard to become conscious of the reality, it is super important to notice what is real and what is not, since I lost this sense of reality while being in the relationship.
I am aware that not everyone wants and/or also is able to freely speak about their feelings and experiences. Therefore, I hope to be a support to those who feel related in any kind of way. Besides this, I also notice in our society that there is a very one-sided media image, idea and narrative about domestic violence. For example, in the media there is usually an image to be seen of a woman with bruises. In relation to this, I believe that mental abuse is mostly left out. Since I’ve experienced a lot of mental abuse, I want to educate from the perspective of a survivor ambassador all victims, all survivors and also all those who don’t know anything about the issue of domestic violence – the people that also can be a support to those around them. So, yes, being a Survivor Ambassador helps myself still in my healing process, but I do it mostly, of course, for the sake of others.
VSE: What kind of help did you get at victim support in the Netherlands?
Melanie Maria: First, I started with 1-on-1 help through Moviera (Victim Support Domestic Violence). For eight months straight, a social worker from Moviera came every other week to my home to talk about what I had experienced and what to change for the future. After 7 months, I started with group-workshop-therapy sessions through Moviera. With a group of 10 women we got educated about different facets of domestic violence, about what happens during and after. Both, 1-on-1 help and group-therapy, were focused on have the same core value – Toekomst Zonder Geweld (Future Without Violence).
VSE: Have you received any other help?
Melanie Maria: I also went quite quickly after the break-up to my GP (huisarts). I had a few meetings with two doctors for a few weeks in the beginning and then I was send to a POH-GGZ. This is a mental health doctor connected to the GP. After being half a year out of the relationship, I could start with the therapy sessions at ‘FEMS Therapie voor Vrouwen’ – an organisation in Arnhem, which is specialized in helping women who are abuse victims. I first started with psycho-analyst sessions and there it came out that I suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I am now in the process of EMDR sessions, a trauma-therapy which helps softening my panic, anxiety and sadness when I encounter triggers.
VSE: Who or what was the most helpful in the aftermath of domestic violence?
Melanie Maria: The most helpful was the 1-on-1 help. It started right after the break-up with the abuser and she, the woman of Moviera, was always very patient to listen, react and also teach me about domestic violence: for instance, the circle of violence. Detailed unhurried conversations about what had happened to me helped me to figure out that it was real and awful (I believe I asked her almost every session if it was right for me to get victim support, if I was a victim of domestic violence and that it wasn’t me who was the narcissist in the relationship).
VSE: What could go better in regards to victim support services in the aftermath?
Melanie Maria: I was lucky, but I know that a lot of people have to wait quite a long time before they get support. I think it is very important to have a personal meeting with victim support workers as soon as possible after a victim reaches out the services. The first weeks are crucial for a victim to be taken care of by victim support workers and specialists.
VSE: Tell us a bit about your art.
Melanie Maria: I work with the understanding that we are all longing for an emotional connection with the other. After what happened to me in the abusive relationship, and during the healing process of therapy, I came to notice – that even someone as my abuser – was a person I wanted to be with, because I feel safe around another body. I feel loved when I am with another human being. But don’t we all want to be loved and to feel safe? And looking at some philosophers like Jacques Lacan and Gilles Deleuze, I came to the belief that there is no individual. So when there is no individual, we are all part of a bigger collective. Yes, within social matters – but also, and most important, in emotional level.
Through physical performance I embody this collectiveness in the desire to share and to just be with one and another. I usually do this by almost ritualistic movements and piles of humans in an open, and sometimes public, space.
I also created one artwork about my abusive relationship. 562 white sunflower seeds were held in a small glass jar, which was for one month exhibited in an elevator at the school where he and I used to study – where also abuse happened. The seeds were laying in a mix of water and purple sweet sugar soda. During the one month at first three seeds started to grow, but after two weeks mould started to grow on them and the upcoming flowers shrunk and got almost captivated in the jar and the mold. 562 stands for the days I was in the abusive relationship and the text that was next to the jar was an excerpt from a love letter my abuser once wrote me:
“The barrel shaped core within is filled with the grainy taste of freedom, which when ingested makes time to enter a temporary slumber. As I sit beneath the white blossom of purity, gazing upon the sky where my eyes meet the sight of a butterfly desperately flapping its wings, in an attempt to reach salvation.”
VSE: What do you want victims of domestic violence to know?
Melanie Maria: “You are not crazy. Listen to your gut feeling. Trust yourself. Love yourself. It is OK to feel how you feel. And whatever you decide, I am here to support you. You are not alone.”
VSE: How do you plan your awareness raising efforts around the issues of domestic violence?
Melanie Maria: On the 20th of November I am speaking at Victim Support Europe’s Autumn Conference ‘Victims’ Rights: Time To Act’. In the future, I would like to give more lectures at different platforms in Europe, but also focus on the Netherlands, and maybe one day I will write a book or create a video lecture.
If you are a victim of domestic violence in the Netherlands, you must take action and get support. The team of Moviera is always there to help. https://www.moviera.nl/
If you are a victim of domestic violence in any other EU country, find victim support service in your location on Victim Support Europe’s interactive map: https://victimsupport.eu/interactive-map/