Photographs and stories from the world of Sierra Leone, West Africa inspired Signal Hill’s Greenly Art Space gallery director Kimberly Hocking so much that she and the founder of Counsel to Secure Justice (CSJ) Jon Derby transformed two different cultures of art into one cohesive exhibit.
The collaboration between the two will be seen in the Darkness and Light exhibit, which opens at the gallery on Saturday, Oct. 21.
Not only will photographs be displayed from men and women on the streets of Sierra Leone, but the exhibit will also showcase the work from survivors of sexual assault in Dehli, India served by CSJ.
Derby and Hocking met through church, and she asked him about CSJ’s work in Dehli and if there was any way she could help. In response, Derby shared a story with her about a woman affected by sexual abuse.
Hocking explained that she was instantly inspired by the woman’s courage and wanted to look more into what CSJ does for survivors of sexual abuse.
“[Derby’s] a lawyer, and he has founded this organization to really just be advocates for these young women,” Hocking said. “So, reading her story really moved me, and I created a piece of art for that and a poem that I wrote which I shared with him, and I told him he can share that with her as well. He talked about how that sharing of the words about courage, as well as the painting, had been very encouraging and supportive to this young woman, as well as to the people that he worked with.”
Derby, in return, looked also to have CSJ become more involved with the message Greenly Art Space conveys within its community.
“When he came for a visit early, he said he really wanted to talk to me because I have done a number of projects– kind of similar to the Broken/Beautiful project– over the years with different communities around the world,” Hocking explained. “He said, ‘I really want to talk with you about something that we can do with the young women that we work with in India,’ and so, we met together and kind of threw around different ideas. One of his ideas was around the Festival of Diwali in India, which is a very huge celebration of this idea of conquering over darkness.”
Hocking and Derby then decided they wanted to begin a photography project centralized around the theme of overcoming sexual abuse or “darkness.” The two had individuals in Dehli and Sierra Leone take photographs of what they believed darkness was to them at the time.
The appeal that drew Hocking towards the stories of the men and women of Sierra Leone began a couple of years back. She also explained the themes that have encouraged her to develop the Darkness and Light exhibit and inspired her to open the art gallery in 2009.
“I had worked on a project about 10 years ago with a friend of mine who lived and worked in Sierra Leone,” Hocking said. “We kind of were talking about the concepts of brokenness and beauty in our lives and the lives of the people we worked with. So, we decided to do a photography project with some of the people of Sierra Leone and asking them to look at this concept of brokenness and beauty.”
At the exhibit, dancers Ulka Simone Mohanty and Shyamala Moorty will perform a piece dedicated to domestic violence survivors titled “A Butterfly Dreams.” Hocking explained that the metaphor of a caterpillar trapped in a cocoon breaking free as a transformed butterfly symbolizes the escape and survival of those affected by sexual abuse, which is a timely performance for the event.
Overall, the Darkness and Light exhibit projects a message that impacts not only the gallery’s local community, but those suffering from sexual abuse all over the world. Thus, Hocking discussed the purpose of the exhibit and what she hopes to accomplish.
“I think one of the purposes was to give these young women from India […] a real voice to tell parts of their story and to show images of the darkness they walk through and the light they are hopefully finding with the help of CSJ,” Hocking said. “I think on one hand it gives a more intimate connection for people with what’s happening in other places in the world. I really want for individuals that come to see it to be able to maybe see this as, I guess, a struggle in a different way, because sometimes we hear all the numbers and statistics on things that happen, but having an actual photograph that’s taken from a person that has actually experienced that trauma can be very powerful.”
The opening for Darkness and Light will take place Saturday, Oct. 21 from 7pm to 9pm at Greenly Art Space, 2698 Junipero Ave. #113, in Signal Hill. Derby will be present to share about his work in Dehli, India. Original art created and donated by local artists will be on display for a silent auction to support CSJ. The opening is free, but a $10 donation is suggested. The exhibit will run through Nov. 25 and can be viewed by appointment only by calling (562) 533-4020.