By Sue Peacock
Thousands of photographs captured on a smartphone are at the centre of a new exhibition in Ballarat documenting one child abuse survivor’s path to healing.
Peter Blenkiron’s photographs are on show at the Art Gallery of Ballarat alongside video diaries and a documentary film about his story of abuse at the hands of Christian Brothers.
Blenkiron is seeking healing from the debilitating legacy of abuse that was inflicted on him as an 11-year-old by a St Patrick’s College Christian Brother.
He says he wants the exhibition to inspire hope in other abuse survivors.
“There is a story that goes with the shots which shows that journey of hope and light no matter how dark it gets,” he said.
Ballarat remains infamous for a group of notorious paedophile Catholic priests who abused children over a number of decades.
Blenkiron hopes the exhibition will act as another “Eureka” moment for Ballarat.
“Just like we saw political change on the back of the deaths of miners and police during the Eureka Stockade, now is the time for cultural change on the backs of the deaths of so many people I went to school with, those who didn’t make the journey,” he said.
Ballarat’s suicide rate is higher than the state and national average and all funds from the exhibition including from the sale of photographs will go towards the prevention of suicide and premature death.
Blenkiron’s photographs were taken on his phone over an eight-year period. (Supplied: Peter Blenkiron)
Gallery director Gordon Morrison said it was important the gallery responded to issues impacting the Ballarat community.
“It is a very important to look at the experience of these people, to look at Peter Blenkiron’s intensely personal response — the response of a survivor trying to see positives,” he said.
“It is that positive message contained within the exhibition that is really important.
“Art has a social message, art is not necessarily about the pure and the beautiful and the true, it is also about speaking out for people who haven’t had a voice in the past and that is what this exhibition does.”
Curator Vanessa Beetham, a childhood friend of Blenkiron, has plans to tour the exhibition to other abuse hotspots including Boston in the US.
“The survivors and community advocates have a vision for making Ballarat a centre for healing which we hope will become a model for the rest of the country, to leave a much more optimistic legacy than being remembered as one of the worst epicentres for child sexual abuse and suicides in the country,” she said.
An essay of 26 large portraits of survivors and community advocates, by Archibald Prize finalist Daniel Butterworth, are also part of the exhibition.
The exhibition expands on a smaller show of Blenkiron’s photos last year and opens this weekend.