Photo: Simon Downey

Rye sexual assault film sparks important conversation surrounding trauma

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By Emerald Bensadoun

A Ryerson grad explained how her art helped her overcome the trauma of sexual assault at the Feminist Art Conference (FAC) on Jan. 21.

The FAC, held each year, is a Toronto-based event that focuses on art within Canada that internationally discusses feminist and social justice issues.

According to Arezoo Najibzadeh, a third-year Ryerson student and FAC committee member, this year’s focus is really about embodying resistance.

“Resistance against oppression, resistance against violence, being who we are, resistance against any force or anything that tells us to stop being what we are and stop fighting for what we believe in,” explained Najibzadeh. “Aside from being artists and feminists and students, we really are activists in some sense. We want to create this space for feminist artists to be able to showcase their work.”

A rare combination of fiction and documentary, blurring the lines between reality and mythology, Ryerson alumni Sydni Lazarus’ film Wisdom Teeth explores the parallels of the mythological Hades and Persephone to tell the stories of real sexual assault survivors in a world dominated by rape culture.  

Detailing her own experience with sexual assault, Lazarus hopes that her film helps other survivors understand what happened to them. “Sexual assault is a silent epidemic and the one way I know how to fight it is through art,” she said.

Najibzadeh said that sexual assault and harassment are all too prevalent at her school.

There is a difference between practicing and portraying,” said Najibzadeh, “and something Ryerson is really good at is portraying itself as a feminist school while not really practicing what it preaches.

According to Sexual Assault Statistics in Canada, it is estimated that between 15 per cent to 25 per cent of North American College and university-aged women will experience some form of sexual assault during their academic career. When CBC conducted an investigation into the number of sexual assaults reported on 87 Canadian campuses last year, their findings concluded that more sexual assaults were reported to Ryerson University than any other university or college in Canada. According to the report, 57 assaults were reported to the university between 2009 and 2013. In 2013, Ryerson had a full-time student population of almost 24,000.

In light of all of her success, Lazarus is still astonished by the amount of people relating to her message, sometimes questioning whether or not her experience really happened. “I feel like I have imposter syndrome, like that there’s no way this happened, I didn’t make this,” admitted Lazarus. “My entire team was used to me having these doubts.”

Making the film, says Lazarus, motivated her to go out and get therapy. “There was no way I was going to be able to get through making this film without some professional help. I mean, I’d thought about it every single day for eight months,” she said. “Talking about it until it was dead in a way, until it no longer hurt to talk about.”

Her film, Wisdom Teeth, has gone on to win several awards in North America, and will be featured on Bell Media throughout the year.

“I feel in a healthier place emotionally, I feel like I can finally understand what happened to me, and I have people who can finally affirm it. I have solidarity with people,“ attributed Lazarus. “I also feel that as a filmmaker, I feel a little more empowered. Like any artist, I feel like my work is never good enough, and to have recognition from artists and from my audience, from survivors, is so, so healing. “



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