Derek Hopkins and Allen Vandever are both Chicago area artists who interpret their worlds through their work. In the case of these friends and collaborators, that includes a shared history of child sexual abuse.
The two have undertaken their project, “A Childhood Fractured,” with the hope of bringing attention to child sexual abuse. The project consists of a series of paintings by Vandever, made as he discusses various aspects of sexual abuse he experienced as a child. Reflections on the process, the finished paintings, and a selection of short stories will be crafted into a series of books co-authored by Hopkins. The two hope that in breaking their lifelong silence, that others will be encouraged to do the same. They believe they can kindle a critical, constructive, and positive dialogue about sexual abuse.
D2L: How did “A Childhood Fractured” come to be?
Vandever – The project for me started in 1994. I made a series of paintings and short stories for one of my professors. My professor thought it was so good that it should be in the main gallery of the university. It was a huge success and traveled to other universities. I always knew I would come back to child sexual abuse as a subject, but first I wanted to become a better artist and establish myself in the art world. For the last five years, I have focused on building an audience and a platform so my voice and art would be seen and heard. Now I have that platform. Now my mission is to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children through contemporary art.
Hopkins – I became a part of “A Childhood Fractured” after being inspired by Allen and the bravery and courage he summoned to overcome his abuse. I was inspired by how adamant he was in wanting to use his art to do something about this international epidemic. I simply followed in his footsteps.
D2L: What are you trying to achieve with the project?
Hopkins – My mission is to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children through contemporary art. I never want a child to have to experience what I have experienced. The first step in our plan of action is to raise awareness through contemporary art. Once we have effectively garnered enough attention through our art, we will use it to create constructive public dialogues into the nature of this epidemic and what are the necessary measures, scientific, public, and otherwise, that it will take to end it.
Vandever – Stop the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and help those that have been abused so they can help others. People go from being victims to survivors. I want to help survivors become more than survivors. I want to empower them to help others. If every survivor, along with people in general, joined together to help stop child abuse we could potentially end this epidemic.
Vandever working on the ninth painting in the series.
Vandever working on the ninth painting in the series.
D2L: How do you think your abuse impacts your art? Do you think your history shapes your art that falls outside of the project?
Hopkins – As a person, my abuse has made me more empathetic, introspective, and aware. Aware of the never-ending potential in people to grow and overcome. My history, I suppose, shapes my writing. I am not sure to what degree. I am writing my first novel titled “Orphan of the Street,” which is about a boy who grows up in the contemporary American ghetto. My humble opinion, as of today, is that art should have a social function of illuminating the areas of human existence that are least explored, unknown, and should work towards the betterment of people’s lives.
Vandever – It impacts everything in my life, especially my art. Because of the sexual abuse, I had trauma induced dyslexia which makes it hard for me to function in a normal professional job, so I have had to work outside the norm. I am stronger, more motivated, and a harder worker because of it.
D2L: Your project is working in several different mediums, including painting and chronicling the process in video and blog form. Is there a certain medium that you enjoy more?
Hopkins – I enjoy all of it. Our nuanced approach to this, I feel, is really leading towards some incredibly dynamic work from the standpoint of art aesthetics. I enjoy watching Allen paint. The amount of tact and diligence he puts into his craft is inspiring. We are putting all the original paintings and stories into a book that will run in tandem with our project. In this book we will also explore our artistic journey with this project, the people who have helped us along the way, and the most current research done on survivors and abusers.
Vandever – Painting is my focus and all the other mediums are about the paintings, for the most part. All the mediums are important and this project wouldn’t be what it is without all of them.
D2L: How do you think your partnership helps to amplify your message?
Hopkins – We are both male survivors of sexual abuse and that adds its own dimension to conversation on this topic. We are both from different generations. I am a millennial, Allen is from Generation X. We come from different cultural and economic intersections. If nothing else, I hope the differences in age, race, religion and the like convey to our audience that sexual abuse does not discriminate. It happens to children from every walk of life every single day. And that until we – as a society – take universal action into ending this international epidemic, no child will be safe from sexual abuse.
Vandever – I could not do this without Derek. We help balance each other and keep each other on task and moving forward. We are in the process of growing our team. I am a strong believer that you need a great team to do great things.
You can learn more about “A Childhood Fractured” at their website, read the stories of the paintings on their blog, or like their page on Facebook.