An artwork recognising almost 1,000 women and children killed by men in Australia has been removed from a Melbourne museum, partly on the grounds it could traumatise some visitors.
Melbourne artist Dans Bain was asked on Wednesday to remove her 30 metre work, The Lost Petition, from the Her Place Women’s Museum before Friday’s opening of an exhibition celebrating 25 years of women in politics, curated by the Australian Labor party-affiliated network Emily’s List.
According to a statement issued by the chair of the Her Place Women’s Museum board, Mary Delahunty, The Lost Petition was taken down because of the work’s size and scale, and the lack of an alternative space to install it in the east Melbourne museum.
But Emily’s List national co-convenor Leigh Svendsen confirmed to the Guardian the organisation had asked the museum’s board to have the artwork removed, partly out of concern that there were insufficient measures in place for people who might be triggered by the work’s confronting nature.
“It’s a fantastic exhibit, but we only have volunteers to staff the Her Story exhibition, we certainly haven’t any capacity or ability to support people if they become upset by Dans’ work,” Svendsen said.
“I’m not suggesting that that would necessarily happen [but] I think that’s something that needs to be taken into consideration.”
The Lost Petition fabric artwork consists of 12 white bedsheets stitched together and bears the names of 986 women and children murdered through domestic violence since 2008. As more deaths occur, their names are added to the work.
The artist said the Emily’s List request to remove her work was like a “double erasure” of the women and children who had already had their lives snatched away.
“I’ve had families contact me and asked for photos – I had learned just recently, a family from New Zealand, their mother is on the list, and the family asked me to take photos,” Bain told the Guardian.
“I had to say, unfortunately, we’ve had to remove it from public viewing. And it just feels awful that we’re doing that to families.
“This work is about bringing visibility to this issue of male violence against women and children and I’m pretty devastated that these lives have now been doubly erased because it’s been decided The Lost Petition is an uncomfortable reality.”
The names of the victims inscribed on the artwork are provided by the founder of the anti-gendered violence group the Red Heart Campaign, Sherele Moody, who said the work’s removal was an “uncaring slap in the face” for the families of every victim named on the artwork.
“I know some people hate this artwork because it tells an uncomfortable truth about violence in Australia,” she said.
“But to see a museum for women and another high profile women’s organisation deem it inappropriate is massive kick in the guts for me and for Dans.
“Saying now is not the time to hang this project shows how dead women and kids are an inconvenience to even those who should know better.”
Delahunty’s statement issued on Thursday said the museum board had made the decision to reinstall the artwork later in the year, in agreement with the artist.
“We are planning to welcome The Lost Petition back to Her Place Museum later in the year as a focus of the Her Voice program of Australian Women’s activism, after May when The Lost Petition will tour regionally,” she said.
“It is a powerful artwork and that power is reflected in the feedback we have received.”