"I became someone else the first time I was touched. Trapped in a body that doesn't belong to me. I look upwards, asking for help. My eyes are trying to tell, but no one sees. Tears fall as my innocence is taken. I have lost who I am, and fear who I have become." Catherine Daniels.
Not many art exhibitions come with a warning, but this one does. It will affect you.
'The Secret Keeper' is an exhibition like no other, and it is showing at Whanganui Community Arts Centre from Friday.
Catherine Daniels has spent five years creating the characters to tell her story. They are sculptures representing childhood abuse. She identifies with her sculptures to such a degree that she calls them "her girls" and she cares about them. They have become beyond inanimate, their message is so strong, relevant, terrible and sad. They tell the story.
This exhibition is inspired by Catherine's childhood trauma and years of sexual abuse.
"It wasn't until I was nearly 50 that I realised my secrets had made me sick. As I started to unfold the layers of history through words, many of them in metaphorical form, I joined a writers' group which supported me in my journey through the complexities of understanding my own mental health issues."
Her mother died five years ago and Catherine realised she couldn't keep her dreadful secret any longer. Her parents died not knowing.
She knew she had to get help.
"The first time you are touched, you are changed forever."
She has had nightmares every night since she was three years old. That is her "normal".
Catherine had a story to tell but didn't think she had the skills to write. It was local author and writing tutor Joan Rosier-Jones who convinced her otherwise.
"I think in metaphors, but I never knew that, so I just write how I think."
Catherine spent her school years trying to be invisible, slipping under the radar and leaving at 15 with no qualifications.
"I couldn't read a book like other kids, because if I stopped the monsters in my head caught me."
Catherine went to Joan to learn to write, even though she had read only two books in her life, and nothing since she was nine.
Under the watchful, sympathetic gaze of Joan Rosier-Jones, Catherine began to write her story. It was hard because although the words were on paper and plain to see, Catherine dissociated herself from them, to the extent that even though she might have written 5000 words, she was under the impression she had written nothing at all.
Joan knew this woman could write, in spite of Catherine's doubts.
"One of the most amazing things I've ever learned is 'just write'. Words are the most powerful thing you can have," says Catherine. She says she owes a great deal to Joan.
Once you verbalise something it's out there, it's been said, but if you write something you can choose to change it, tear it up, hide it, bury it and or make it known. You have options, she says.
"One day I couldn't write … so if I can't say it in words, so I'll make her [the Secret Keeper]." The sculpture said in 3d form what she couldn't say in words.
"That day, 'The Secret Keeper' was born. Over the last five years Catherine has created 49 mixed media sculptures to portray the emotions she could never verbalise out loud. "Basically, I isolated myself from society and hid in here [in her studio]." She was sculpting raw emotion for the first time in her life.
"I have also written and published a book of metaphors called "The Secret Keeper" which will be for sale at the exhibition."
It is a beautifully presented book of prints and explanatory, metaphorical text, inspired by Joan and published by Tangerine.
"My ultimate goal is to have one of these boxed sets in every therapist's office.
"It's a real conversation that needs to be brought out into the open, because it still has a really bad stigma."
Her combination of text and visual art will reach more people than any university-written intellectual tome.
Viewers will experience all kinds of emotions during the process of seeing the exhibition: anger will be one of them. Many will identify with it and see it through eyes very like Catherine's. For many it will evoke pain and emotional hurt. Others will empathise and realise they are not alone.
All of these things are completely normal.
"What Mike King and John Kirwan have done for depression, I want this to do for sexual abuse."
The exhibition has already been shown at Square Edge in Palmerston North. There it was sponsored by Carol Lewis of REMAX in Bulls.
"The response we had was phenomenal," she says. "Most people who came to the exhibition spent at least 40 minutes looking." They went from plinth to plinth, reading the words and looking closely at the sculptures.
An elderly woman visited the exhibition and, when she got hear Catherine, she leaned in and whispered, "You know, it never goes away."
Catherine has left enough gaps in the narrative and made the sculptures generic enough that anyone can add their own story of abuse, whether it's sexual, violent, emotional or whatever.
But it is still art, and some have admitted to seeing beauty amidst the hurt.
For the book, she spent three years looking for the right photographer.
"I wanted that dissociative, foggy feeling portrayed in the photos … I wanted a female photographer … I saw one of Esther Bunning's photos." She knew she'd found the one. From there it was a collaboration. Esther's partner Terry Hann created a video for The Secret Keeper.
The book and the exhibition have had a therapeutic effect on Catherine, but, as she says, it's not going to make her past disappear.
The Secret Keeper exhibition opening in Whanganui on Friday will be attended by MP Steph Lewis and Mayor Hamish McDouall.
What: The Secret Keeper by Catherine Daniels
When: May 21 to June 14, 10-4 Monday to Saturday.
Where: Whanganui Community Arts Centre, 19 Taupo Quay.