To understand her subjects, artist Ann Kiernan tries to channel her own internal rage and inject it into her illustrations.
Ann, originally from Kells in Co Meath but now living in Berlin, has created the graphics that illustrate the harrowing testimonials of abuse victims on this evening’s episode of RTÉ Investigates Domestic Abuse, A Year in Crisis. (RTÉ One, 9.35pm)
In preparation, the production team sent Ann over audio recordings of survivors’ accounts. The clips were disturbing and resonated with her at a profound level.
She believes many Irish families have been affected by domestic abuse and said she witnessed incidents when growing up. She recognised the shame, silence and grip it can have on people’s lives.
“The words were familiar,” she said. “I wanted to make something important to those women and create an illustration that wouldn’t be used against them by their perpetrators, or as another thing to beat them with.”
The rates and incidents of abuse within households rose throughout the pandemic.
More than 43,000 calls were received by gardaí about domestic abuse incidents in 2020, a 17pc increase on 2019.
And last year, gardaí reported a further 10pc increase in domestic abuse incidents year-on-year.
Trying to convey the insidious sense of fear and violence domestic abuse victims live with was important to Ann.
“I just try to inject whatever anger I have inside into the piece. I try to put my feet into the shoes of the people suffering that injustice.”
Ann, who was crowned Illustrator of the Year in the 2020 Victoria and Albert Illustrator Awards, uses a technique she calls illustration with ink flow.
She paints first with water and then drops ink and allows it to branch out and spread across the page.
Ann has worked on acclaimed campaigns, including The Washington Post’s anniversary of the death of the murder of exiled Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.
In this project, she wanted to create imagery that would convey the sense of trauma but would not detract from the women’s words.
The strength of the women who shared their stories amazes her, she said.
“It’s kind of this weird culture in Ireland. It’s a secret culture. What happens indoors stays indoors. Nobody wants to interfere.
“We talk a lot about women not being safe outside but for a lot of women being in the home is the most dangerous part. I can barely imagine what it was like during Covid and the suffocation the women must have felt.
“At least before the pandemic, you could get out and get some sort of break. But being forced to stay indoors alongside the person? I cannot imagine the intensity of that.”
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can seek help by calling the Women’s Aid 24-hour Freephone helpline on 1800 341 900