The giver of life and the carrier of the burden of death is how I see and portray my symbol of “Mother Earth”, she (unlike myself) can give life to anything and does so – with no pain relief, no support, it is simply her obligation to continue our species. With Mothering comes abandonment – for her strength is not in the nurturing it is in the facilitating of life. Feeding you when hungry or starving you when she wishes, giving you shade as well as ripping away all that comforts you.
To her life and death are justice, it a natural order or law which aligns us within the universe. Life and death obviously exist and she reminds us of this, with the scale tipping slightly lower for death – indicating how death is a consequence for living.
The devouring Mother who both produces and destroys everything is like our earth, like our solar system, our galaxy , our entire universe. However the representation of her as female is an interesting depiction, in most mythology goddesses and deities are depicted as troublesome but still have a complex persona which is shown through various symbolic personality traits, showing strength, virtue, rage, love and of course the most important of roles, the creator of life and nature. Matriarchal societies are prevalent in mythology, although they have been disputed to have ever existed in history as a female led society or civilisation. Patriarchal rule and ownership of women is the reality, making these mythological symbols even more important.
Depictions of women for most of our history as a species have been of the virgin, mother, obedient wife, whore, witch or old crone. With each woman being a one dimensional character, with no complexities or ambition. They were not even elevated as “creators of life” instead treated like cattle or a conveyor belt of babies.
Women can be anything and everything just as men can be, gender as a concept rather than a biological definition is on its way out. So these figures that we create and lift up – they must be more than just the roles assigned to us from birth, this earth needs all of us to be creators, destroyers, givers and takers. That is the essence of all existence – here today gone tomorrow, death does not discriminate even if you have the privileges that afford you a longer life, you will still die and return to the earth.
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This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
There is something which disturbs my mind every day, which no one knows to look at me – no one suspects that throughout my day I have to endure pain and flashbacks due to the metallic, heart pumped liquid that flows through our veins. When I was violently raped at 15 years old the injuries suffered were severe. Having to have vaginal and anal surgery was another violation but medically necessary.
Knowing I had been damaged severely during the rape and straight after, never having experienced such pain, it felt like being ripped open; however as a young girl who wanted to fit in with her friends, assuming this was “normal” and how sex was for girls, my immediate reaction was confusion and relief it was over. Even though my mind would flash with intense warnings to what had just occurred, such as the images of me faced down unable to breath, crying silently in agony as he split me open, or of me on my back paralysed as I was held down and forcibly penetrated and the image of being gagged from oral rape with no air supply and fearing for my life. However shock and dissociation kicked in, in the immediate hours after, wanting to be loved and not understanding what had happened led me to ignore the sever pain and remain silent.
It was not until the following morning that the realisation that my entire world had changed; waking up in a pool of blood and in agony was the beginning of the end. Knowing this was not menstrual blood, the shock of it all was still so incomprehensible – writing this now I understand this better, but then as a child in 1999, it was not clear what had happened to me. Still then – thinking that this was my fault and that because my other friends had not experienced this that it must be because I was a freak of nature. Did I do it wrong?
Upon telling my friends Mother (who I was staying with), what had happened and that I was bleeding heavily from both ends, her reaction was simply; “what did he do to you”? This sentence which still rings in my ears was the first indication that something wrong had happened to me and it was not all in my head.
The following days were excruciating, physically and emotionally, it took a few days before I was taken to a safe house, where my statement was taken and a medical examination was held with a rape kit. The doctor and nurse were horrified by my injuries and could not believe I had been walking around like this for days. Then they broke the news to me that I would have to have surgery and a lot of stitches – vaginally and anally. When I came out of the examination room, my Mother looked at me and she said the same thing “what did he do to you”? There were no answers, just a word which people -the adults kept saying; rape!
When people heard that this had happened to me most did not believe me, the reason being that at the age of 11 my mental illness had come to the surface, as a self harmer and a child who had tried to kill herself several times before 15, people treated me like a demented child who made things up for attention. The Mother of the boy who raped me even went as far as to suggest to the police and school that the sever wounds suffered, were actually done by me and not from vaginal and anal forced penetration, saying I had deliberately self harmed my genitals to accuse him of rape? Obviously this woman was not a fan of Occam’s razor.
The surgery was at Winchester hospital and it was a sunny day in mid June, I remember this, the memory of laying on the stretcher going into the operating theatre with beams of light dancing over me as we passed a corridor of windows. All I could see was myself as from above, having dissociated and experiencing psychosis my mind was detached. Another violation was happening, another medical necessity, defiling me once again.
When awoken from surgery, the first sounds which were audible to me, were my own screams – yelling at the top of my lungs, “this was not supposed to happen, he was supposed to love me”. It didn’t feel like the noise was coming from me, it sounded like it was coming from a little girl trapped somewhere, who I desperately wanted to find and rescue. Still detached and now suicidal, with no energy and so much pain, the world seem to drift by and all that was important to me was death, ending it all. This is when I was put into the psychiatric adolescent unit in Epsom.
Today as a woman who has only recently accepted what happened to me at 15, the blood still haunts me. Suffering from C-PTSD the flash backs which come about can be so intense causing sever vaginal and anal pain, it strikes me like lightning and locks me in the terrifying moments which happened. There are also everyday things which cause these triggers to overwhelm me, such as the fact I have PCOS which causes me to bleed a lot and often, every time I see blood – the violation and violence washes over me and drowns me in trauma induced psychosis. Another complication is that I can not have smear tests or any vaginal examinations, which puts me at great risk, especially as someone who has PCOS, as we are more likely to have cervical and ovarian cancer. Sex has also been an ordeal, throughout my late teens and twenties, not knowing when a flashback would occur and often happening during sex. Luckily with my husband through kindness and love I eventually was able to have sex without it being painful. Blood will always be the worst trigger for me, it even affects me having blood taken – which is essential as a diabetic. As well as having unexpected triggers, like when my husband recently cut his hand badly and blood spat everywhere – seeing little droplets all over the bathroom floor sent me into a psychotic state. Furthermore as I sit writing this – it has taken me weeks, as the need to step away and have breaks from this piece was required for my own sanity, it is overwhelming writing this and reading it back.
The reason for me sharing this with you is because the only way I can continue to survive is by helping to create change for others. My life started with sexual abuse in my own home (at 4 years old by a family member), which is then where I was raped at 15 at an overnight party by a boy in my year who was also only 15 years old. There is so much more to be told, however this piece is the most open I have been before, this is scary but it is necessary and having survived far worse than revealing this to you, this can only make me stronger. When I close my eyes at night the colour red is all I see, it has never left me in over 16 years, it remains my biggest trigger, however the more we “the survivors” share the more awareness is created and hopefully this will happen less or be dealt with better if it does.
This painting has been one of the most revealing and allowed me to confront my own blood. It is part of my ongoing collection:
She was thought to be different from an early age,
no one understood her language or seclusion.
Being made to witness their madness on a rampage,
their sadness transparent – was she the intrusion?
When looking up at the stars she could see her home,
the planet she was created on – was so far from here.
Abandoned, dropped in a deep-sea of monochrome,
swimming to the ragged shore – a reluctant sightseer.
A heart larger than most – with beats like a bass drum,
She fights the worlds battles – a leader with forlorn hope.
Her voice soothes you – allowing you to overcome,
Eyes so open they see like the Hubble Telescope,
As an alien she lives amongst us in vibrant blues,
she disguises herself as she waits in purgatory.
Her hope is to free this earth of beliefs disabused,
Your life is fragile – never forget; memento mori.
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Just over a year ago I decided to take down all my art for sale on my website and removed my art from galleries. This was not due to not selling work or a moody tantrum, this was in fact thought out over some time, which was needed as my mind was riddled with questions such as “will this sell” and “is this going to be popular with customers and collectors”. The part of me which was now in charge of my creativity was also doing mental spreadsheets and customer surveys.
Now I am not saying this is not a way to sell art, as there are many successful commercial artists who take to art as they would any business. However this is not for me, I am not driven by money and my philosophy is very anti-capitalistic and personally I dislike any art which is made in the hope of selling for obscene amounts of cash.
The arts have been growing more elitist and individualistic since the 20th century, which historian Walter Benjamin called “The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” The commodity of art and creativity is now a marketable idea and product to be sold on mass, even though the world we live in is in no way accommodating to the life of an artist, unless you are the lucky few (which is mainly white, middle/upper class men) then you can not replicate the same success as any outlet which churns out art prints of generic tastes to be sold at your local department store. Visual art is taken for granted in our world, imagine the world without it? Removing these visuals from our surroundings would be an extreme shock to our senses, yet we do not value it enough. Art becomes a throw away item, something you donate or sell at a carboot sale or even toss in a skip.
My husband and I are by no means rich, we are actually under the living wage by quite a bit in the UK, which is why the pressure arises in me at the idea that the only thing I can do well and do from home due to my disabilities was not going to feed us or house us on a regular basis – making me believe that myself and my art were worthless. Which left me hollow and without purpose, so as with everything in my life, this became a question of survival.
Tackling mental illness, sexual violence, capitalism, war and being an outsider artist in general meant that automatically my work would not be considered commercial or be the kind of art that the general population wish to put in their living rooms. Nonetheless this is not of any concern of mine, as the artist my purpose is to create, the rest is not up to me. Over this year many of my followers and fans have asked to buy my art or asked where my art is on sale, but still I did not give in. The journey was not over as I still could hear the faint voice of capitalism whispering in my ear.
With this in mind the idea of selling art became something which actually started to terrify me, the thought that if I started again the muse would leap from my mind, with nothing left to nourish me. So I continued on my quest for my cathartic creativity. Which is what led me to reexamine my roots in art – the reason I had begun and the reason it had saved me from hurting myself for so many years. I remembered painting and drawing as a child when my world was falling apart around me, with no adults to guide me; my art was a comfort and allowed me to express feeling which my young brain could not process with language. Furthermore art therapy had saved me when I was in psychiatric hospitals or therapy, never did I think of “selling art” at these moments, there were no thoughts just creativity exploding from me in every direction with a “fuck you” attitude to match.
Then I thought of the other experiences with art which had suffocated me and led me to become silent. Such as secondary school when my teacher decided her and I had a “personality clash” and that I was just a disobedient child who would not concentrate on the topics at hand. Which is hard for me for many reasons. In class a blank piece of paper would be set down for me, with an objective given, such as to draw a still life of some sort – my mind could not confine itself to the simple still life set out before me, other things would appear in my vision and these would have to be incorporated, different colours emerged which others did not see. Which is what drove my art teacher mad, she would get so angry at me and I just could not understand? This was my best and favourite subject and my way of communicating but it was shut down and I stopped trying and taking part.
When later in life I decided to go to art college at 17, having only been out of hospital a short while, the intensity of my emotions and coming from an art therapy environment did not merge well within the confines of academic art. This time I had learnt from previous experiences that my voice was too loud or too raw and with the social pressures of adolescents, which made me want to conform so as to be seen as “normal” and not the crazy girl, I simply muted myself and my creative voice. Which meant yet again the teachers found me difficult, leading me to leave after a year.
With this retrospective, the mission was clear and simple; my work needed to come from the place which has been unheard and abandoned for so long. It is not pretty or comfortable, but it is my genuine voice and my message to the world – with the aim of helping others who like me have been pushed down and silenced. During my year off from the headache that is consumerism, my mind was able to redevelop the meaning behind my journey as an artist. It is true that for me the message in my work is far more important to me than if it is “sellable”, which meant that finding my voice was the most important aspect for my exploration thus far.
Now I am ready to sell my work again and put my work back in galleries, Knowing that the selling is a bonus and the galleries allow my art to be seen and my message to heard by more people. There is now no whispers asking me consumerist questions and there is no compromise to my philosophy. Now I am secure with my art and purpose which means my muse has returned.
If you ever find yourself in this predicament as an artist (of any discipline) then I would recommend a similar period of time away from the suffocation that is our capitalist, consumer driven world, find your roots in your work, work towards your purpose and do not compromise this for anything.
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This painting and poem is from my upcoming exhibition; which tells the truth about my rape and sexual abuse, through visual art, poetry, shadow boxes and my story; my hardest and most painful work to date.
With therapy this process of healing is ongoing, these pieces of work which are still being created and crafted are a way for me to understand, cast out the nightmares which have convoluted my reality, addressing the issues victims of sexual violence (like myself) have to face in today’s world which is heavily influenced by rape culture and victim blaming.
Sharing selected pieces of visual art and poetry (such as these below) before my exhibition is launched is to reach audiences far and wide.
Sexual violence is not prejudice it can happen to anyone. This exhibition is for us all, women, men and children from every ethnicity, social background, sexuality, religion and lifestyle. With doing this, the hope is to give us a voice to tell those who have abused and violated us that we can take the power back that was taken from us, to tell those unaffected how our lives are a daily struggle and to tell the world that there is still so much to do, so that we can end sexual violence for good.
My power was taken.
I am affected.
My life is a daily struggle.
I am a victim and I am a survivor.
I Am Still Bleeding – By Charlotte Farhan
When you look at me you don’t see blood
my violated self concealed
words which remain misunderstood
as if my sex had been revealed
not a little girl but forced womanhood
left feeling helplessly desecrated
as I had been in early childhood
forsaken; flowerless and humiliated.
Maybe you saw me as a flower bud
not pretty; but ripe and eager to grow
violently picked and dragged through mud
grappling innocence; never to let go
my tears washing my shame in a flash flood
not knowing; if there will be a tomorrow
now reminded of the intrusion by my menstrual blood
in a world with no desire to know.
If you have any questions about this painting, poem or the upcoming exhibition, please fill in this form: