Artist’s Title:  THE CLOSED FIST:  Addressing physical and emotional abuse

This is not an Artist`s Statement, rather it is an explanation of my process of design in creating this textile piece on Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence.  If you have never experienced this issue yourself, I hope that what you see when looking at my work may bring some awareness of this very tragic issue and if you have experienced Intimate Partner Violence or Domestic Violence, yourself, I hope you may find some meaning to my piece. 

Abuse has many faces:  physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, elder abuse.  Each person’s experience with abuse is individual onto itself.  Given my own personal experience with this issue and working in textiles, as I have done for over sixty years, I have tried to use my work to bring a visual awareness to this very traumatic issue of gender-based violence against women perpetrated by men.  When I created my first quilt in this series called “Coercive Control” it was to bring a focus to a form of abuse referred to as Coercive Control which is presently under consideration in Bill (C-332) before our Canadian Parliament today.  I then created “The Porch, Opening the Door to Recovery” and what that could look like visually.  But, I was always aware that there was one piece missing in-between these two works and that was in visually addressing abuse itself but how does one interpret abuse in a visual sense without offending the viewer? 

And so, as I was trained to do in Art College, I set about to write my POV or Point of View on what I hoped to say visually in this piece.  I chose as my subjects the physical and emotional aspect of abuse as I felt this could be demonstrated visually in a sense.  I planned to use Botticelli’s Venus again as my focal point of a woman abused because to me she represents historically a beautiful but vulnerable woman.  In writing out my POV I asked myself what lay behind abuse.  To me, the answer is anger, anger along with all that lies behind the reason for anger.  And I also knew that unless I put myself into this piece, personally, the feelings I was hoping to convey would not be there.

I began to lay out my fabrics as painters do their paints.  I purposely chose fabrics that `spoke` to me visually about the subject of abuse.  Thus the colour of red, to me,  represents anger.  The colour black, I chose to represent the grief and despair felt by victims of abuse.   For my ‘Venus’, I chose a very attractive print with a black background, combining, I felt, the beauty of who my Venus is as a woman and the black background reflecting the pain and suffering she experiences in an abusive relationship.  For the perpetrator of the abuse, I chose a ghostly grey print that reminded me of the harshness and visual weight of cement and I deliberately chose a contrasting colour for the perpetrators arm and fist to bring attention to the means by which many women are assaulted.  For the woman being assaulted, I chose a soft and delicate fabric.  Abuse, visually, is not something one might wish to see on a wall quilt, it is not pretty at all.  As to the mental abuse, I decided that words were the only way to enable the viewer to have an understanding of abuse.  Carefully embroidered. I chose three comments made to and about me personally in relation to the abuse I experienced which were intentionally hurtful towards me. I placed these comments on the red of anger with a brief explanation embroidered opposite the comments.  And so the design developed.

With my ‘Venus’ I tried to describe visually what it feels like to be suddenly attacked and assaulted by someone ,especially an intimate partner.  It’s like a bolt of lightning running through your body, thus, my Venus has a bolt of lightning coursing through her body falling into a pool of despair below.  But by then any thought of design principles that I would normally use departed and Thus, I visually ‘spoke’ of my frustration with a small piece of cloth of multiple shapes and colours, completely different from the other fabrics and placed it on the upper right side of my work.  And then I had to walk away from it.  It was stirring up too many painful memories and emotions in me.  The design felt disturbing to me.  Then one night a week or so later, I was awakened in the middle of the night with words clearly speaking to me in my mind.  They were:  “when kindness turns into cruelty, when love turns into hatred, it is time to leave; you are no longer safe”.  I returned to my work the following morning and finished the piece.  Colours, shapes, words that I hope will allow the viewer to have a sense of what abuse feels like to be a victim of Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence.  ||

And then I asked Mary Light who machine quilts my work, how she felt about it.  Here are her words:  When I read Sandy’s artist statement I was deeply saddened and longing for justice for her. As I began quilting this piece, I knew that all of the text needed to be emphasized. The feeling of anger portrayed by the red fabric needed sharp and jerky quilting lines – I felt frustration that words can wound so deeply. To me, the black curved lines under the red fabric, around ‘Abuse Hurts’, and over and under ‘Despair’, show how these wounds from words can weigh one down – making it hard to move forward. The dots and dashes around the victim struck down are representative of messaging SOS (a plea for help) from earlier times. One of the last areas I quilted was the image of the perpetrator – I was angry and the quilting reflects that – more of a scribble than carefully completed. I didn’t want anything ‘nice’ in that quilting. This quilt carries an important message that we need to hear. When love turns into hatred – it is time to leave.

Design created, hand appliqued: (c) 2023 Sandra Small Proudfoot, AOCA ’89.
Machine quilted by Mary Light,
Photographed by Pete Paterson

Coercive Control


Coercive Control is a term used in Intimate Partner Relationships where abusive behaviours lead to Domestic Violence.  From my experience, I hope to put a visual face to this tragic issue of victims of abuse.  Representing a loving relationship, peaceful meadows, sky above and trees surround and embrace Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ standing before my chicken  house in the country.  Yet, when that relationship breaks down and becomes abusive, we are vulnerable; our ’emotional’ eggs have been placed in our loved one’s basket.  Clouds gather and darken as they fall through a formerly loving relationship onto Bernini’s sculpture ‘The Ecstasy of Santa Teresa’.  A winged Angel, his spear filled with Divine Love, is thrust into the heart of the nun lying beneath him.  Yet, to me, this sculpture also spoke of  betrayal.  The angel’s duplicitous smile, his sharpened spear reminded me of domestic violence and the heartbreak associated with it.  Domestic Violence places victims in a cage of emotional, financial and often physical abuse; fearfully exposed to another’s anger and control.  Shelter is needed.  But then, one day on a leafy branch a tiny green crysallis appears and from this a beautiful new butterfly is born.  Recovery is possible.   A new life begins.  

Original design (c) 2022 Sandra Small Proudfoot, AOCA ’89, Mono, Ontario,
Machine Quilting:  Mary Light of Temiskaming Shores, Ontario
Photography:  Pete Paterson, Caledon, Ontario

The Porch: Opening the Door to Recovery

Recovery from Domestic Violence which is also referred to as Intimate Partner Violence can be a very difficult process.  Often years  of emotional. physical abuse and almost certainly financial abuse leaves victims traumatized beyond that which others who have not experienced Domestic Violence would ever comprehend.  My own personal experience with this issue has led me to create two wall quilts addressing this issue: Coercive Control acknowledging victims of Domestic Violence and The Porch:  Opening the Door to Recovery, for survivors.  There is no time-line for the grief involved and if the present-day court system is involved, it can be a discouraging revictimization of the abused person, mainly women.

‘The Porch’ is about hope, about renewal and about opening the door to recovery through counselling, through connecting with others who have experienced abuse, through the womens shelters which can provide a safe haven from an abusive relationship threatening the safety of women and children.  Upon the porch sits two chairs, one for the abused, one for the support offered who help guide us through this process. Reaching out for help, we can open the doorway to recovery.  The black clouds of grief, of loneliness, of fear and of pain gather above and lie heavily upon the victims of domestic violence wondering what lies ahead.  Yet, within that grief lies hope for survival.  An explosion of brightly coloured flowers, inspired by the artwork of Canadian Metis artist, Kristi Belcourt, represent the hope of a better future, spilling out of those dark clouds, the door opens. If we survived the abuse, we will survive the recovery.  But we will never forget.

My dogs, rabbits, birds, my special friends, the support from my local women’s shelter, the peace of nature around me, all contribute to my ongoing recovery. 

Design conceived of and created by:  (c) 2023 Sandra Small Proudfoot AOCA ’89
Photography:  Pete Paterson, Caledon, On.
Machine Quilting:  Mary Light, Temiskaming Shores, On.