A visual history of misogyny spanning over 2000 years – focusing on the pervasion of rape in society – is presented through written testimonies, historical archives, popular and traditional beliefs and photographs in the first UK exhibition of Laia Abril’s A History of Misogyny, Chapter Two: On Rape and Institutional Failure.

“By looking back at history, I could identify gender-based stereotypes and myths, as well as global prejudices and misconceptions that have prevailed and perpetuated the culture of rape. Through painstaking research on the shortcomings of justice and negative attitudes of victim-blaming, this work is a personal analysis of cultural, social and political contexts around the world, that still normalise sexual violence.”
Laia Abril

The images on display range from photographs of biblical rape maps to battle trophies, buildings which held rape camps, chastity belts and fear detectors. Contemporary, first-hand written testimonies are presented alongside black and white photographs of victim’s clothing, juxtaposed with victim-blaming quotes from figures of authority. Collectively, these images visualise the origins of gender-based violence, societal stigmas and the failing structures of law and order which continue to perpetuate rape culture.

Through these photographs, data, curated objects and installations, the exhibition foregrounds rape as a weapon of war, the culture of forced marriage, the fake construction (or reconstruction) of virginity, privacy in the age of social media and the ‘rape schedule’; how women reconsider their daily routines to protect themselves from potential harm. The project draws together multiple examples, from biblical times to the present day, which evidence the systemic control of women and their bodies, and how ineffectual action from institutions has failed to protect or prosecute.

The ‘Wolfpack’

Abril was inspired to create On Rape and Institutional Failure by the ‘Wolf Pack’, a high-profile legal case in Pamplona, northern Spain, in 2016, that involved the gang rape of an 18-year-old woman by five men and the victim’s subsequent public shaming. The exhibition, and accompanying book, subvert the victim-blaming narrative, and instead examine the complicity of law enforcement, healthcare services and religious groups in protecting perpetrators and in cultivating the pervasiveness of ‘rape culture’.

The exhibition and accompanying book (published by Dewi Lewis this autumn) is the second chapter of Laia Abril’s long term project ‘A History of Misogyny’; a visual research project which presents historical and contemporary comparisons of gender violence and access to justice, law and policy makers. Presented in collaboration with Photoworks and the V&A, as part of the V&A Parasol Foundation Women in Photography curatorial programme, the exhibition emphasises the V&A’s commitment to championing contemporary photography and supporting women in the arts. The exhibition is accompanied by a public programme of events investigating the culture of shame and violence against women.

10th November until 27 November, 10am until 6pm every day.

Join Laia Abril in conversation with Professor Joanna Bourke on 16th November.

Presented by V&A and Photoworks, as part of the V&A Parasol Foundation Women in Photography Project.

Warning – This exhibition contains descriptions of sexual assault and rape.

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