Graphic Witness: visual arts & social commentary
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Through Her Own Eyes
[Unless otherwise noted, all images copyright © Sue Coe, 2006]
These portraits of Texas women prisoners were drawn from life by Sue Coe during their interviews with Dr. Eric Avery, an artist and HIV psychiatrist. The women consented, not only to having their portraits drawn, but to Sue's illustrating aspects of their lives that increased their risk for HIV infection. Such images are 'visual journalism', a reconstruction of the often abusive events these women have known. All six are HIV peer educators on their prison unit. As such, they counsel and give support to other women with HIV and are effective educators for HIV negative women who are at high risk of infection.

Sue spent a week at the University of Texas Medical Branch, at the invitation of Dr. David Paar. He invited Sue and Eric to create a book that would help HIV care providers understand the reality of their patients' trauma filled lives. Dr. Annie De Groot, who works with HIV-infected women prisoners in Rhode Island also collaborated on the project.

Sue, Eric and David first collaborated on an HIV related project in 1994 with the cooperation of patients in the infectious disease ward at UTMB. In those days all the patients Sue drew died. Today, in the new reality of HIV, those who can access care can live with the disease. Many receive care in a correctional setting.

Below are selected images by Sue Coe and Eric Avery.
select thumbnail for larger image
There were many variations on a common theme - the women were sold by their mothers to neighbors for crack, or used as sex toys by stepfathers, or locked up in their own homes by their lovers, or beaten with two by fours by their legal husbands, or verbally abused by their own children, or dumped out of cars and left for dead, or gang raped and then set on fire. These women have had their dogs and their children killed in front of their own eyes. These women bear children that are their own siblings. And these stories are true.

I have listened to stories in my clinic that made me want to escape the telling of them - that made me wonder how the woman sitting with me was strong enough to survive, to have children, and to get out of bed every day. These stories were being told by women that had been entrapped by their life circumstances, and could not see outside the room of pain that they had been locked into.
Dr. Annie De Groot, IDCR June 2006





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Cycle of Violence by Eric Avery, woodcut with hand coloring by Sue Coe

Please note: All images in Graphic Witness are for personal enjoyment or educational use. Any other use is prohibited.

Last update: 07 February 2017