Interview by Adi Berardini
CW: Discussion of domestic abuse
Displayed at the Museum of the Home as part of the Festival of Sleep from June to September 2022, The Bed by Maayan Sophia Weisstub is a powerful installation that takes the visuals of bruises and injury and pairs them with the comfort of a bed. Although the bed is often associated with solace and security, for domestic abuse survivors, a bed can hold complex and negative associations. As Weisstub explains, The Bed explores the physical, mental, and emotional toll of domestic abuse, addressing how even after the bruises fade, the emotional scars still linger. The installation sparks difficult but essential conversations about domestic abuse to ultimately create awareness and healing.
Currently based in London, UK, Maayan Sophia Weisstub is an interdisciplinary artist working with a range of media from drawing, animation, collage, and sculpture and installation. A graduate of the Royal College of Art, Weisstub has shown at the Saatchi Gallery, Christie’s, and Pavlov’s Dog Gallery. Her work has also been featured in White Hot Magazine, Kaltblut, and Design Taxi, among others. The following conversation discusses The Bed and her broader practice.
Can you speak more about your installation The Bed at the Museum of the Home which aims to raise awareness and reflect upon domestic violence against primarily women and children?
Raising awareness is regarding everyone. It’s commonly towards women and children but also towards men, I don’t want to take that part away. It’s a topic that always concerned me, like many other social topics. I also did a project with a graphic design office in Munich last year to raise awareness about violence against women. It’s not the first project where I’m dealing with this topic. I wanted to do a bit more because a lot of my work is naturally [based on] the things I deal with. It’s important for me also to touch on other topics and make a little change or protest. It’s not always easy for me to go outside and protest so I can raise awareness in a way that I can or know how to. This is my way to contribute to it as a start [to a conversation about] this topic.
I didn’t want this to be about me or my experience, but it touches me in personal areas. I wanted it to be in the entire spectrum of domestic abuse. I think it touches most people in some places. Whether it’s been sexual abuse or verbal abuse that I think many people have experienced in some sense from parents or siblings, or a partner a lot of times. Sometimes we don’t necessarily think of it as scarring or domestic abuse, but they are all on the spectrum. And then, of course, the more severe ones—I don’t know if more severe, cause it all depends on the effect—but the physical violence and abuse that we hear about in the news.
We don’t hear about it [often], but during COVID, we heard about it more because cases were rising since more people were at home. I think [people] felt frustrated with their conditions, and many were out of work and didn’t make the money they needed, or they took their aggression on their partners or children. I think it’s something that should be [discussed] more because I feel like there’s not enough attention [paid to] it. Then I decided I wanted to do a piece about it, and I had this idea, like a metaphor.
The Bed evocatively bridges the personal and the public and juxtaposes the softness and respite of a bed with the pain of physical violence. Can you elaborate on your approach to using these opposites and how The Bed addresses trauma and survival?
I see the bed as a shelter where you can rest at the end of the day or even cry when you need to be with yourself. Also, intimate relationships and physical contact happen in bed. So, the bed is a very personal, private, or intimate symbol. On the one hand, it’s supposed to be the safe place where you could be vulnerable. Then, on the other hand, it’s also like it can be a door to nightmares or for dark things that may happen in situations in bedrooms, behind closed doors as well.
There’s bruised skin [depicted] in different stages of healing. I researched bruises and looked at photos of domestic views of survivors. I wanted it to [reflect] different stages, but still, there are some scars there. Some heal, some don’t, and some stay forever.
The bed is a very personal, private, or intimate symbol.
Then I approached and was in contact with Refuge, a charity that helps children and women who are survivors of domestic abuse. They sent me some materials and I researched from people around me and my own experiences. [I was in] contact with them regarding the text I wrote that accompanies the artwork, to ensure that it’s not offensive. I wrote victims at the beginning, and later they told me that it’s correct to say survivors, not victims in this case of domestic abuse. That was the only thing, but it’s a big thing to change. I think it’s important.
Then I reached out to a Museum of the Home, it was very fortunate that they did the sleeping exhibition [Festival of Sleep]. It fit well with their program. I reached out to other places, but this was the place I wanted the most because I feel like they’re very involved with the community and social topics. I was very intrigued by The Museum of the Home. It’s a beautiful building that was built in the 1700s. The head of the Ironmonger Society built it for retired ironmongers and widows of ironmongers. And later it was bought and turned into a Museum of the Home in the fifties where it showed different sets of interiors in Britain to teach people about the history.
They do a lot of community workshops and stuff with different communities, such as Turkish, Jewish, Indian, or African, they have a very diverse community coming to the museum. I felt that it would be the best place to show The Bed. Of course, I want it to be shown in galleries and museums as well, but it’s also important for me to show it to audiences that aren’t necessarily the same audiences who would go to the Tate. It’s also free so there are a lot of different audiences that would come and see it. It’s not necessarily [just] artsy people. Once they said that it fits, I [thought that] this is the best match.
I co-hosted a workshop about The Bed on September 28th with a friend who is a designer. It was a therapeutic workshop quilting scars, so attendees added their scars to this communal blanket. It was informative and provided a safe space to do craft work together. I think it added to the experience of The Bed shown there.
It might be hard to gauge, but what has the response been like, do people often share their stories with you?
I went there with friends, [a couple of] art curators and a journalist to show them the work. I mainly got responses from people I went with because museum visitors didn’t know that I made it. I like that because then I can see their response from the side.
There was one woman who went there, I saw her staying there and taking a photo, and then she told me and my friend that it was “very powerful.” That was very nice to hear. Also, I saw a couple come in, and one woman said to the other, “The bed is very small,” and then she walked out. The work is not easy to digest. I know from my friends that they had different responses.
Some people said it’s meaningful and powerful. With these kinds of abuses, you tend to feel a sort of loyalty to the person who has done that to you, whether it’s a family member or a partner. You don’t want to make them look bad. I don’t feel people necessarily have to share their experience if they don’t want to. If they brought it up, I would ask and talk, but I wouldn’t force anyone into an inconvenient or uncomfortable spot. I hope one day we will be able to talk more openly about the pain that we go through and not be ashamed of it, or scared to share, or worried about making someone else look bad if they’ve done something wrong.
With friends, it takes time to gain trust and feel safe enough to share traumas. It takes a certain degree of knowing each other to share these vulnerable experiences.
Your work commonly connects inanimate objects to emotional feeling (such as a table and chair, with the kinetic sculpture Mnēmē, A Breathing Object), giving it human qualities. Can you speak more about this connection and your inspiration of how people connect to objects?
Mnēmē is a word that describes the effect of the past on the present. That work was my graduation project from the Royal College of Art, where I graduated last summer. This piece was dedicated to my father who passed away almost eight years ago. It was about how we project sensations, memories and experiences onto inanimate objects and bring them to life doing that.
A lot of it was also inspired by reading In Search of Lost Time by [Marcel Proust], there’s a part that [clearly] describes this experience. I always feel like I get attached to objects quite easily. If someone brings me [something], I can’t throw it away easily. I keep it and associate it with memories of that person. It breathes life into the object, becoming a sort of monument forever. In the book, there’s a part where the main character eats a Madeleine. Suddenly, he goes into a stream of memories from his childhood triggered by the smell, touch, and taste of that cookie. I think that you can get that when you find an old shirt, for example, that belonged to someone you cared for, suddenly it brings a lot back to you.
The objects in that installation are all objects that I [used to] create an imagined scene of my father’s room when he was younger. It’s all furniture from the fifties, including the book.
Everything is finely [selected] and symbolizes something. The article the book is opened on is an article about life and death, different theories by different philosophers about how to conceive death in regards to time. We may not know what happens next, but I believe it doesn’t just end when someone passes away.
How do you choose your medium with the work that you do?
I usually think of an idea and then I think of what would be the best medium to share it with the world and communicate it. A lot of times, I see my drawings and collages as sketches for future installations, sculptures, or films. I do them at home on paper or Photoshop, just because these are my immediate resources. I would like to produce more large-scale installations and video works. I like things that immerse you in an experience.
You can view Maayan Sophia Weisstub’s work on her website and Instagram. Check out her upcoming installation at Room25 in Tel Aviv in May 2023.