A Jail Door Addresses 'Criminalized' Victims of Domestic Violence

Move to Move Beyond Storytellers, a group from Gibney Dance, performs during the opening of "Wall of Silence," a mirrored, mock jail cell door. The art installation, by Donna Ferrato, will have a six-month stay in Collect Pond Park. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Jun. 30, 2022

A mock mirrored jail cell door is now on view amid the courthouses of the Civic Center. Called Wall of Silence, by Donna Ferrato, the temporary art installation in Collect Pond Park at Leonard and Centre Streets is meant to call attention to a legal system that advocates say criminalizes women who defend themselves against their domestic abusers.

Stand before the door and see yourself, unjustly, behind bars.

Ferrato, a Tribeca-based photographer best known for her groundbreaking documentary work on domestic violence, calls the piece “the essence of everything I’ve been doing all my life as a photographer.”

“Wall of Silence,” she noted, ”acknowledges the criminalization of survivors of domestic violence and confronts the realities of gender-based violence.”

Ferrato’s piece, on view until Nov. 10, was a response to a request for proposals from the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence. “We wanted to try something new and create a new type of space for an artist to use their art to activate people and communities, and also to spark a conversation,” said Hannah Pennington, the Office’s deputy commissioner. According to Pennington, 94% of women in prison had a history of physical or sexual abuse before they were arrested. “The criminal justice legal system doesn’t acknowledge the survivors’ past experiences of abuse in all different types of contexts and mitigating factors in their acts of survival,” she said. 

In her proposal, Ferrato insisted that her work belongs in Collect Pond Park, near the courts. 

“I can’t underestimate the honor it is to be able to create this monument that is here at the Collect Pond Park,” she told the ceremonial gathering, “surrounded by the institutions that represent justice and injustice.” 

A performance by domestic abuse survivors at the installation’s opening on June 25  dramatically drove that message home. As the women, members of the group Move to Move Beyond Storytellers from Tribeca-based Gibney Dance, slowly moved around the installation and embraced, their recorded voices spoke of personal experience with the courts. “We are victimized twice,” said one of them. “By the person, and by the system.”

“We have to get the word out, we have to get the legal system to realize that there are people here who have been unjustly incarcerated and who have been taken advantage of,” Joan Hutton-Mills, a domestic abuse survivor and one of the storyteller-performers, said following the opening. “We need to educate the public and then maybe we can have a change.”