What kind of monster keeps trying to destroy the memorial to survivors of sexual violence?
The Survivors Memorial, in Boom Island Park in Minneapolis, is the first permanent memorial to sexual violence survivors in the nation. The idea came about two weeks after Sarah Super was raped by her ex-boyfriend in 2015. Super founded the group Break the Silence, and has been instrumental in making the dream for the memorial realized.
Located near the waters of the Mississippi, the sculptural work glimmers with light. Figures of different races, ages and abilities come together in community with each other. The work depicts pain— like one figure crouched down in a fetal position, but also illustrates ways that love and nurturing from community can lift a person out of a place of trauma toward resilience.
The project was helped along with some famous feminist donors— Gloria Steinem, V (formerly Eve Ensler), Nora McInerny and Rep. Ilhan Omar among them. With a team that included Damon Farber Landscape Architects and visual artist Lori Greene, the memorial was completed in 2020.
Greene was a victim extreme sexual violence herself. Camping as a teenager, she was kidnapped by a man with a rifle, raped, and brutally assaulted before she was able to escape. That was in 1981. Since that time, she has found recovery from that trauma through art, and has used her gifts to offer healing and connection with the broader community, and particularly with Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities. Whether she’s creating public art, or working with young people in the schools or with community members, Greene uses her art as a place of love and peace.
A deep red color jumps out in each of the panels. It’s often used as a symbol in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Movement. Greene herself is African American, Native American — of the Mississippi band of Choctaw — and Caucasian. In her work, the main figure seems to transform from someone seeped in shape to wearing her red dress as a point of power.
The memorial has been vandalized twice now. The first time it happened was in May, when the vandal, or vandals, attacked the image of a Black figure and four of the six mosaic panels. The granite and donor pavers were also vandalized. A GoFundMe paid for repairs to the mosaic tiles and granite, work that was completed over the summer.
“It took us a while just to figure out how to repair the substrate,” Greene says. “I’ve never had to make repairs before. I’ve never had any of my mosaics be attacked.”
Then, on Oct. 17, the person or people attacked the figure of the Black woman, removing her face completely. They also removed the hand of a person in a wheelchair.
The terrible irony of these attacks is that the memorial was created as a healing space. Greene feels certain the perpetrator was intentional in their violence. “I think this is a misogynistic and racist attack,” Greene says. “They are very purposeful.”
Besides feeling incredibly sad, Greene says she feels frustrated by the lack of security by the mosaic, particularly after the first act of vandalism. “There isn’t a camera there. I think that a camera would deter people,” she says. “I don’t want it to become a place where people don’t feel safe.”
According to a statement from the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, police are investigating the incident and encouraging anyone with information to come forward. “In the meantime, the MPRB is working with the memorial organizer and artist on repairs,” the statement reads. “MPRB will be discussing options with the memorial organizer for additional protection of the memorial.”
A new GoFundMe has been set up to support the costs of making the repairs. “I need to get it repaired as soon as possible since winter is coming,” Greene says. “If the mosaics aren’t repaired, then it’s going to make it a lot harder, because moisture will seep in.”
Besides the worry of the coming winter, Greene hopes the memorial can still be a place where people aren’t afraid to visit. “I want people to be able to know that they can go there,” she says. “We’re going to try and make it as safe as possible.”