The ‘Breaking the Silence: Turning Pain into Power’ exhibition aims to reorient the way we think about victims of sexual violence in conflict

By Thomas Ansell

The Dr. Denis Mukwege Foundation, working with the SEMA Network and portrait photographer Rachel Corner, have put together a new exhibition on display in The Hague library until February 24.

‘Breaking the Silence: Turning Pain into Power’ shows portraits of 15 survivors, with Corner portraying the diversity, challenges, and resilience of victims and survivors of wartime sexual violence around the world. Together, they stand united before the viewer – breaking the silence and stigmas about the violence that they have suffered.

©Mukwege Foundation/ Rachel Corner

All of the people depicted in the exhibition are part of the SEMA Network, which the Mukwege Foundation set up in 2017 to help empower women who had suffered sexual violence in conflict, and grew out of an international survivor retreat; with the aim of bringing about a “survivor movement”.

As noted in a foreword by Nobel Peace Prize Co-laureate 2018 Dr. Denis Mukwege: “the work that these women are doing is not solely for themselves. Nor is it to seek revenge, or to point the finger of blame. Their purpose is for the world to know that survivors have rights that must be respected. It is to ensure that their daughters and granddaughters never have to go through the experiences that they have suffered.”

©Mukwege Foundation/ Rachel Corner

There is also a book available to accompany the exhibition, which profiles 28 women survivors and their allies, some of whom depicted in the photography exhibition. Each profile is interviewed about their ideas, involvement in SEMA, and hopes for the future without sexual violence.

Each of the women’s stories is a powerful reminder of the prevalence of rape as a weapon of war and sexual violence in conflict situations. These range from Leesa, an ally and Bangladeshi film-maker documenting the stories of the Birangona women, who suffered unimaginable brutality during the 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation war; to Beata, the Head of Counselling at Solace Ministries in Rwanda, who uses her own experiences to counsel other survivors.

‘Breaking the silence: Turning Pain into Power’ is available to view at The Hague Central Library (4th floor), until February 24. The accompanying photo book is available to view on the website of The Mukwege Foundation.