Imogen Paton—Arts Against Abuse @ AFROPUNK

Jamel Duane Alatise: So yeah, Imogen, tell me about it—what is this?

Imogen Paton: So, like I was saying—It’s a project about domestic abuse, so, I'm trying to raise awareness in a community that domestic abuse is a lot more than just physical violence—emotional abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, coercive abuse. 

So this smashed up car that you can see here was a relic of my own experience. So, the guy that I was with - you know, he was very physically abusive, but he was also really mentally abusive.

And through the mental abuse, the manipulation, he encouraged me to sell my flat. I mean, I was vulnerable when I met him, a single mum with two kids, I didn’t know how to get out of the benefit cycle I was stuck in. I owned a property but I couldn’t get off benefits. I was really down about it. So he met me when I was vulnerable.

Anyway, he encouraged me through mental manipulation to end up selling my flat, putting all the money into business ideas for our future, so, one of those things was importing classic cars from America—he talked about charity all the time and he was really well educated and really calm in demeanour.  

So this is one of five cars I imported over from the States and I don’t even have a drivers license.

And I was pregnant at the time and the more heavily pregnant I became, the violence increased. The more violent he became, the more frightened I became of voicing my opinion because he would then beat me.

I could see the money disappearing but I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I lost one hundred and eighty thousand pounds in eight months. All of my security for me and my three kids—everything gone.

And then two weeks before our son was born he smashed this car up after doing a load of other awful things that night.

When our little boy was finally born, when he was just one day old he hit me while I was still holding him, and then I knew that it was never going to change, and that even though I could accept the violence on myself because I loved him and I thought he was suffering, I couldn’t accept that for my kids. I needed to get out of there before something really terrible happened.

So I said: ‘Look, I can’t do this anymore,' and then he said ‘Well you have to give me the child,' and I said ‘I can’t give you the child.' He wasn't having it.

He waited the next day for all the family that was visiting to leave the house, then he tried to kill me in the house.

And I remember, we had this forty-five minute conversation about, how he was going to kill me, and how he was going to frame my death and make it look like a suicide, and nobody would ever know the truth. He sat in front of me while our baby was in our arms—just a metre in front of me, calm as day, calling me ‘sweetie.' ‘Sweetie you have to believe me, I will kill you.'

So basically, I was rescued out of the house and I was helped by an organisation called Solace Women's Aid, and they helped me by educating me that what I'd gone through was something—you know—although it felt like my own private horror movie, they made me understand that it was in fact, 1 in every 3 women have experienced some form of domestic abuse in their life. And 1 in every 6 or 7 men—that's an awful lot of people.

That's more than suffer with cancer, and yet where's the knowledge, who's talking about it?

So I wanted to give back and all I had was a smashed-up car and I thought, well, I can either sell the car and give them [Solace Women's Aid] whatever I get from that - for parts, eight-hundred pounds, or a thousand pounds as a one-off donation - or I could try and do something more long term. So I try and do something more long term, which is what I'm doing here with the project.

The idea is that people donate a couple of pounds to draw on the car, symbolically, as a community, we are then creating something beautiful from something broken and battered. It's a visual symbol that there's life after abuse.

And metaphorically, that domestic abuse is not the end of the road. And then, the money helps fund the renovation, so the car can then be rented for weddings, films, advertising, school proms.

And then 100% of the profits from all the rentals for the next 10-20 years goes all back to Solace. That is what this is about.

JDA: Wow! That's so awesome! Imogen—can I give you a hug?

IP: Yes - you can!

JDA: So, you've kind of touched on it, but could you say why this is important?

IP: This is really important because one of the biggest boundaries to making change within domestic abuse, is getting rid of the silence. It’s opening dialogue, it's getting people talking about it.

And part of the problem with domestic abuse, is that you don’t want to talk about it when you are in it.

I told the world I'd never have been happier—I actually believed, I'd never been happier. He made me feel and brainwashed me into believing that I should be so grateful to be with him, that I felt privileged to be having his child, even though he was beating me through the pregnancy.

You know, when you are in that situation you don’t want to show anybody the truth, you don’t want people to know, because you love that person and you don’t want to anybody else to not love them or like them. It’s very, very difficult.

With a project like this, people come and emigrate towards it because it’s interesting to look at and people want to know why it's [the car] smashed and people want to know why you can draw on it and if they can get involved.

That then opens the pathway for dialogue. If I had a sign above my head saying ‘I am talking about domestic abuse’ nobody would ever come to talk to me.

Maybe at AFROPUNK they would but anywhere else, in any normal situation people would not come and talk to you.

Even if they were interested, that’s not what you want to do on your Sunday afternoon at the Farmer’s market, you know?

And this is the way to penetrate through those issues and take a multi-pronged approach as well.

So, open dialogue but also support women’s aid directly through funding.

JDA: Yeah - in a very tangible way as well that is beautiful.

IP: And also a very inclusive way. You can be disabled and take part, you can be eighty-five and take part, you can be 6 months old and take part. You can be any—you know, just as domestic abuse affects all sexes, races, religions, ages, financial background, class—Everything, every pocket of the community is affected and every pocket of the community can take part of this project.

JDA: Wow!

IP: That is why it is important!

JDA: That is why it's important at AFROPUNK! Furthermore.

IP: Yes, yes the amount of people affected by domestic abuse in this space - huge - just like everywhere else.

See images here:

Transcribed by Petra Trendafilova
Edited by Jamel Duane Alatise
Photography by Jamel Duane Alatise