Sandy Ngọc Nguyễn was sexually abused at the age 8. She attempted suicide several times over the years. Facing death, she regained the strength to live and to overcome the pain and hurt of her trauma.
She is one of many women around the world joining the art project “1001 Portraits of the Goddesses” carried out by Hiratsuka Niki, a Japanese-English artist from Australia. Niki travelled the world to draw portraits of women who are victims of sex abuse and record their stories. She opened an exhibition displaying a part of her project yesterday in Hà Nội.
Born in 1986, Niki grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and studied philosophy at the University of Sydney. In the years after graduation, she became an English teacher and pursued her love of learning languages overseas. She studied Vietnamese in Hà Nội from 2009-2010, which turned out to be a major advantage when she returned to work on the project six years later.
In 2015 she trained as an art therapist and discovered the healing properties of art. When she shared the story of her experiences as a sex abuse victim through a 2016 exhibition of her art in Sydney, she realised that her art had not only helped her heal but also brought comfort to others, who then felt able to share their stories as well.
Art became the way she invited people to share their stories with their communities through her project.
“I kinda refer to some superhuman qualities within these women to step up on a social level and share their stories,” said Niki, explaining her use of the word “Goddess”. “It’s rare because you don’t actually see a lot of people standing up and sharing this. That’s the biggest challenge of my project.”
Regarding the number “1001”, Niki said she wants to portray as many women as possible through her project and the number sounds impressive.
“I will not stop at the number 1001, I will approach more and more women in the world and help them raise their voices,” she said.
Niki said that Sandy is the woman who impressed her most in Việt Nam, who encouraged her and inspired her to carry out the project.
Sandy bravely told her story to the public at the exhibition’s opening ceremony.
Last year, she published an autobiography in the hope that people who have had similar experiences can realise their strength.
“Try to open your mind, try to tell your story. Learn to forgive so you can receive love. Love and love will come back to you,” said Sandy.
Nguyễn Vân Anh, director of the Centre for Studies and Applied Sciences in Gender, Family, Women and Adolescents (CSAGA) said the exhibition helps raise awareness of sex abuse in Việt Nam.
“We need to raise our voices to stop sex abuse of women and little girls,” she said.
The exhibition will run until December 6 at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, 36 Lý Thường Kiệt Street, Hà Nội.