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Tauranga Women's Refuge project is a novel idea, writes Annemarie Quill

When Simone Anderson was approached by Amanda Girvan of the Tauranga Women's Refuge with the idea of creating an art calendar to raise awareness of domestic violence, her first thought was no. But not because Anderson, the artist and director of the Incubator at the Historic Village, wasn't taken with the concept - she just wanted to give it a more enduring form.

"A calendar has only a finite life and the pages are torn off, folded over and forgotten about after only 30 days. Yet these women and children's stories are indelible."

Girvan, the child advocate for the Women's Refuge, approached Anderson back in 2013 and three years later the concept they talked about is being launched as a book.

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Motivated by the opportunity to use art as a tool to raise awareness, Anderson had the vision of a sophisticated anecdotal art book in the style of Grimms' Fairy tales, a high-quality professional book that would grace any coffee table but engages the reader in a gritty yet palatable way.

"I didn't want anything too lightweight downplaying the seriousness of the issues so thought using a Grimms' tales formula would be a better fit than an art calendar. The tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are enshrined into the human subconscious. The stories were profoundly symbolic and often cruel and not intended as children's tales."
Their wide-reaching metaphors were a good vehicle to convey women and children's stories.

"Their tales reveal little about the external world, history, culture, class, or politics but do however have much to say in symbolic terms about violence, abuse, sexuality, fear, desertion and hopelessness."

The book's creation has been very much a meeting of art and reality. Real women, some clients of the Tauranga Women's Refuge, were partnered with established illustrators, artists and local authors.

Anderson assembled 13 women and children with stories to tell, having no problems attracting people who wanted to be involved to contribute their talents. From the outset, the real women were very much involved in how the book developed.

"Often labelled 'survivors' or 'victims', for the purpose of this project we identify these brave women and children as the 'storytellers'."

The women are all Bay locals but not all clients of the refuge.

"There was a call-out through their channels and ours which is how people got to hear and stand forward. Some have historic experience from many years ago and some are still battling their wolves."

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Some of the storytellers are identifiable and some are not.

The first meetings between the storytellers and the artists took place at The Incubator in 2014; each of the women was assigned an author and artist and the book was underway.

Anna Crusis . Photo/Baz Mantis
Anna Crusis . Photo/Baz Mantis

"Knowing it was important to keep a tangible link to each storyteller we engaged local photographer Tamara Rendell. Tamara's photo shoots captured as much or little of the identity of the storytellers as they were comfortable with, while still managing to cleverly capture a glimpse of their personalities. The storytellers' photographs are a non-fiction anchor to each page.

The stories deliberately avoided anything that would trivialise the issue, going for 'real grit' and thereby giving the authors the unenviable task of extracting painful experiences and translating the women's and the children's harrowing stories into sinister folkloric fables.

"The artists were then tasked with the very difficult responsibility of illustrating the tales with exquisite dark vintage imagery, knowing they not only had to do justice to the storyteller but capture the ominous sense of darkness that these stories hold."

The team and sponsors
Anderson said the book could not have been possible without the endorsement of ANZ,

"The ANZ Staff foundation who believed in this project and their grant enabled us to commission a team of wonderful experts, including several designers and a very patient and experienced editor."

The launch
The book will be launched at a black tie, red carpet Grimm Fairytale Ball at the Historic Village on April 23.

 Amanda Girvan and Simone Anderson at Woman's refuge. Photo/George Novak
Amanda Girvan and Simone Anderson at Woman's refuge. Photo/George Novak

"Here is where the storytellers emerge as the fairy tale princesses and heroes deserving of a cornucopia of an evening of ice sculptures, fine food, beastly servants, mystical music and lusciousness. "

The masqueraded storytellers and clients of the Tauranga Women's Refuge will rub shoulders with supporters, dignitaries, authors, artists, publishers, media, sponsors and local celebrities to raise awareness of the issue and most of all celebrate the culmination of a successful endeavour.

The ball will also be the first reveal of the Grim Tales book, and as all profits achieved from sales will go the Tauranga Women's Refuge, every person who purchases a copy will be doing their part to help keep the wolf from the door. Presales are available through the project website www.grimtales.co.nz

The authors
Janice Giles, Marcel Currin, Jan Goldie, Sue Hoffart, Jessica Harvey, Keri Welham, Piper Mejia, Suzannah Newton, Gin Mabey, Dhaivat Mehta, Shone Barnett, Jenny Jenkins, Sian Northfield, The Artists, Lesley Robb, Karen Cowell, Nick Eggleston, John Baxter, Rosey Amstrong, Simone Anderson, Skye Carson Wilson, Lynette Fisher, Wendy Pedersen, James Stanbridge, Florence Thorburn, Becky Popham, Ani Fourie.

Anna Crusis. Photo Baz Mantis
Anna Crusis. Photo Baz Mantis