I am pretty sure artist Michelle Major wears a cape and flies through the air, paintbrushes in hand. As with all superheroes, something tremendously traumatic transformed her. In August of 2008, her abusive husband tried to choke her to death. Before that, he took a butcher knife and slashed nearly a hundred pieces of her stunning artwork just to really cut her where she would bleed.
The irony is that, while he tried to weaken and silence her, she ultimately emerged stronger and louder than ever. Her voice rings out clearly now and calls to others as she displays her powerful butchered artwork through her traveling exhibit, Portrait of Violence.
For some, looking at the slashed canvasses from that night might sting. But not for Major. Major told College News that, “For me, it is not painful to look at them anymore, although it has only been fourteen months since the attack. The slashed pieces have taken on a strength and character of their own. It’s kind of like how I had to approach looking at my own life. I do not look at the paintings through the eyes of loss, wishing it had never happened, or being filled with ‘what ifs.’ Those feelings would have kept me victimized. I could not continue to look in the rear view mirror, but face forward.”
Her slashed artwork is strikingly powerful, but so is the artwork she created after the attack.
“Initially after the attack, I did not want to paint again. It was too painful to think of what happened to all my artwork. I even questioned my artistic abilities. But eventually I picked up the paintbrush and I began to paint some pretty horrific images.”
The first painting she created, through tears, is called Terror: He Wore a Yellow T-shirt and depicts the face she saw as she slipped out of consciousness during her attack.
Major didn’t stop there. “The more I painted, the stronger I became. I became more positive and less afraid. I began to accept the situation that had become my life and I was determined to move forward. I finally recognized that through my artwork, I was getting the ugliness, rage, fear, pain, and bitterness onto the canvas…Facing pain, hurt, and devastation is painful, but walking through the fire to the other side is the shortest route to wholeness.”
Major now empowers others through her organization, BAVA: Be A Voice Arts, in order to provide healing through artistic expression, as she did herself. “Turning my life experiences into art has been the key to my healing.”
She has received many thanks from women who have found inspiration through her story, art, and teaching. “You can leave even if it seems impossible and you are gripped by fear. My story provides proof that life on the other side of abuse not only exists, it is liberating, freeing, and full of opportunity, hope and promise.”
Major’s abuser was released after less than a month in jail. However, he violated probation and was sent back, and is now waiting a new sentence. Major points out the alarming fact that he has been jailed for more than seventy days for violating probation, yet was incarcerated a mere twenty-eight for trying to murder his wife and the mother of his child.
At first, when he was released on bond, Major was terrified. He had threatened to kill her and kidnap their newborn. Major feared for her life, went out in disguise, and fell asleep only when exhausted. However, she came to realize that by hiding, he was still in control of her life, and she would no longer put up with it.
While she felt justifiably vulnerable and driven to hide herself and her child from her assailant, in an incredibly brave act, Major did just the opposites and went very public with her abuse, transforming her from victim into superhero. How did she do it? “I asked God ‘How do I learn to live, instead of simply exist in a life filled with fear?’ My answer was to shine a light on what happened to me by sharing my art and my story, and in the process, I would light the way for others as well as keep myself safe. Darkness cannot enter the light. My abuser and all the fear that surrounded him represented the darkness.”
Light is right! Major continues, “My abuser tried to silence both my artistic and my literal voices. It became evident to me that the more I used each of these, the stronger I became…I was required to speak to judges, lawyers and police officials in the legal system as I fought to have my attacker appropriately sentenced. During that process, I became all he said I was not...more importantly, I will be able to share my story of strength and courage with my fifteen-month-old daughter. I can rest in the knowledge that regardless what domestic violence advocacy may bring into my life, I broke a cycle of abuse that she will never have to experience. She will never have to see her mother hurt or eventually be hurt herself. She will never have to experience fear for herself or for her mother. She will not know what it feels like to be bound, silenced, or walk on eggshells. She will never think choosing a man that hurts her is normal or right. My daughter will recognize the portrait of a healthy relationship.”