Case study: Alisa Tanaka-King's dedication to women killed by acts of violence

73 women were killed by acts of violence in Australia in 2016. The Bird Girls Project documents each one with a portrait by Alisa Tanaka-King.

For each woman killed by acts of violence in Australia in 2016, I will draw a portrait.

Alisa Tanaka-King is a Melbourne based artist. Alisa's contemporary practice combines a variety of techniques that explores the audience experience by creating immersive and interactive spaces.

Giving a voice to lives lost

In 2016, challenged by the White Ribbon Oath, 'I will stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women', Alisa began to think about how she could give a voice to the lives lost as a result of violent acts against women. From there The Bird Girls Project was born.

The Bird Girls are my contribution, my attempt to join the other voices crying for awareness, change, and women’s rights.

Destroy the Joint, a women’s rights organisation, runs an ongoing tally of deaths of women in Australia. Alisa extends this information by visually illustrating each of the women killed in an individual, hand-drawn portrait. Each portrait is of a faceless woman and represents a life lost.

The faceless portraits focus on the hairstyles of the figures. The hairstyles illustrated are layered with detailed illustrations of birds, which are drawn in the girls' hair, over their shoulders or above their heads.

'When I start to draw, the experience changes. I go from being horrified at the act committed, to sitting with the woman who I’ve never met, whom I will never meet and wondering how I will do her justice.

It is important to know that the portraits drawn are not meant to reflect the physicality of the victims they portray. I draw to honour the life lost, but I also draw to illustrate the infinite characteristics of ‘woman’ that exist in our society. The hair and birds are drawn in ball point pen. Nothing fancy – good old fashioned, everyday biro. The clothing and accessories are drawn in Indian ink.'

Important conversations

In 2016, seventy-three women were killed by acts of violence in Australia. Alisa has drawn what she describes feels like a never ending stream of portraits honouring the lives of these women. As a result, she has had countless of heartfelt and incredibly important conversations with men and women alike which have been inspiring, draining and heartening.

'How can I be tired when these great things are happening? While there is still so much work to be done, it is important to take a moment to celebrate what has been achieved. Fight the good fight with integrity and bravery. Be innovative and imaginative. Don’t settle for less. That is not how fundamental change happens.'

You can follow The Bird Girls Project on Facebook and on Alisa’s website.

Reviewed 27 October 2020

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