I am Unbeatable–Documenting and Celebrating Stories of Empowerment–Photographs by Donna Ferrato

Donna Ferrato, American, b. 1949
Sarah's New World, 2013
Color pigment print on fiber paper
© Donna Ferrato, 2014

(September 12 – December 4, 2014)

Donna Ferrato’s groundbreaking documentary project, Living with the Enemy, serves as a context for framing her new campaign against domestic violence, I Am Unbeatable, which takes her social activism to a new level by focusing on survivors of domestic abuse. Through a storytelling partnership with acclaimed American journalist Alex Chadwick, best known for his work on National Public Radio, and Claudia Dowling, award-winning journalist for such publications as Life magazine, Time, and others, I Am Unbeatable is an exhibition, a grass-roots effort to support women who have escaped violent relationships, and a means to speak directly to young women and girls who have yet to declare themselves “unbeatable.”

The author of five books, Ferrato is a self-taught photographer who became a freelance photojournalist in 1976. She was based in Paris and Belgium until 1978 and traveled extensively in Europe and the United States throughout the late 1970s. She was hired by Japanese Playboy in 1982 to photograph couples who epitomized the wealthy American lifestyle of the early 1980s. After witnessing the husband of one of those couples brutally beat his wife, Ferrato embarked on an independent documentation of domestic violence in the United States.

For more than a decade, she traveled with police, lived in battered women’s shelters, camped out in emergency rooms, and stayed in maximum security prisons with women who were serving life sentences for killing their abusers in self-defense. Ferrato’s photographs on this subject were published in Life, The New York Times Magazine, Time, USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications, and were aired on the television programs Dateline and Eye on America. The culmination of Ferrato’s domestic violence project came in 1991 with the publication of her book, Living with the Enemy, and the founding of the Domestic Abuse Awareness Project, which seeks to end violence against women and children through awareness, education, and action. From the year of its founding through 2009, the Domestic Abuse Awareness project produced exhibitions on domestic violence to raise money for women’s shelters.

Sarah, a survivor of domestic violence, and her children are the subject of much of this exhibition. A short film on her family will premier at the opening and be shown continually thereafter in the Gallery.

This exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Class of 2018 Commons Reading, Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. I Am Unbeatable—Documenting and Celebrating Stories of Empowerment—Photographs by Donna Ferrato is organized by the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and curated by Joseph S. Mella, director.