I caught up with my friend Kylie Bryant over a plate of loaded fries at Never On Sundays. Kylie’s hard-hitting exhibit, “The Aftermath,” had just ended. I had a front row seat as an actress in the piece, so it seemed the perfect place for me to start a series of interviews on BSA students’ extracurricular arts projects.
“The Aftermath” was staged in our black box theater. The audience walked into a white, room-sized box onstage. While the lights were on, the audience could see the actress sitting on a bed in the middle of the room. When the lights went out, however, the walls lit up with glow-in-the-dark quotes that Kylie had gathered from survivors of sexual assault.
The first thing I asked Kylie about was her inspiration. The idea came to her in a dream. Her mother’s dream, actually. Last spring, Kylie spent a miserable night at a sleepover in Glen Burnie. When Kylie’s mother arrived to pick her up, she tearfully told her daughter of the dream she’d had that night. In it, Kylie had survived a sexual assault and had created an exhibition about it that involved duct taped mouths and pink neon signs. The next night, when Kylie had a similar dream, she knew she ought to pay attention. Grabbing another fry, Kylie explained, “My mother often has other people’s thoughts.” In the second dream, however, the exhibit was a little different. Kylie described it “like that scene from Avatar [The Last Air Bender] where the world falls away.” Only, in her dream, testimonials from survivors started to appear out of the dark. Kylie preferred the second version. “My style is more minimalistic.”
Kylie’s plan sprang fully formed from that dream. Her next step was realizing it. She spoke with her arts teachers, but they all seemed overwhelmed by the scale of the project. Kylie said that, to be fair, none of the teachers she approached had taught her before. Determined, Kylie decided to meet with Dr. Ford. There she found “enthusiastic support.” By the time school let out, Kylie had permission to use school property.
Her next step was finding the quotes she would paint on the walls. She asked people she knew, reached out over social media, and even signed on to support forums as a researcher. She asked two questions. “How did you feel after you were assaulted?” and “What would you say to the person who attacked you?” She received over 300 responses. As school restarted, Kylie raced to secure the black box and paint her walls.
It’s unclear how many people came through the exhibit, but “was very satisfied with the turn out.” When I asked her what surprised her most during the exhibit, she said that, on one side, she had survivors coming up to her at the exhibit giving their own statements. On the other, she was “shocked by how unaware some people were of how common sexual assault is.” When I asked about her plans for future exhibits, she laughed. Apparently, all her teachers have been asking her the same. For now, though, she said she is “completely wiped” by the exhibit, which was emotionally draining.
At the conclusion of our conversation, I asked her if she had anything to say to survivors or to the general public after this exhibit, and she said, “Yeah”. To survivors, “There are always people out there to listen to you. I’ll listen to you, but there are all sorts of places you can be heard.” And to society, “Shape up.”