Artist Viray Thach’s first solo exhibition, ‘Resilience’, aims to create conversation about societal misunderstandings of the experience of sexual assault while elevating the voices of survivors.
The art of difficult conversations with Viray Thach
The first thing artist Viray Thach did when she got access to a studio at The Mill was redecorate.
18 July—16 September
154 Angas Street, Adelaide 5000
Opening event: Friday, 29 July
This article discusses sexual assault. If this story has raised issues for you, call LifeLine on 13 11 14.
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To make the space hers, she layered on a fresh coat of paint and added an accent wall in her favourite colour – an earthy orange.
CityMag firsts meets Viray midway through this process, back in January, as she cleans a paint roller in a splattered trough.
With the homemaking nearly complete and a six-month residency ahead of her, she’s excited to get stuck into the work.
Viray is a digital illustrator and arts educator, and she is the recipient of The Mill’s 2022 Sponsored Studio Residency, supported by the Mahmood Martin Foundation. The residency provided her with a studio in which to bring to life Resilience, her upcoming exhibition.
Resilience, as a concept, dates back to the dawning of the #MeToo movement, which inspired Viray to open up about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault.
Through her exhibition, Viray wants to platform the voices of other survivors and create discussion about the ways sexual assault is misunderstood and survivors are often questioned or blamed.
The artist’s decision to speak about her own experience came following the news of the Harvey Weinstein assaults. At that time, there was much public discussion of sexual assault, and of Weinstein’s victims specifically – not all of it particularly helpful.
“I was at a house party and one guy was like ‘Why now? Why are they telling their story now?’” Viray says. “You don’t realise who is in the room. One in four women have been sexually assaulted. But at the time, I wasn’t ready to speak out. But I was bursting, I was bursting to.”
These exchanges affected Viray, and led her to decide it was the right time to start speaking about her own experience.
“I was absolutely terrified at the time. I had no idea how people would react,” Viray says. “I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot of support, especially from people I didn’t know.”
Renee Miller was The Mill’s Writer in Residence from January to June 2022.
This work was contributed through The Mill’s writer-in-residence program.
For more information on the program, see here.
By the time Viray entered her residency at The Mill, she had a clear vision for what her exhibition would entail.
Resilience consists of portraits of sexual assault survivors, made through digital artmaking and linoleum printing (a skill Viray picked up recently).
The two mediums, one modern and one traditional, allow Viray to flex different sides of her practice. In her digital work, she builds personality out of minute details; in lino cutting – a restrictive medium that matches Viray’s artistic preferences – she opts for symbolism and bold imagery.
“I love simplified and clever design, so it’s given me an opportunity to do that,” she says. “I have such a strong digital background, it’s just nice to break away from the digital side of things and do things more traditionally.”
When CityMag speaks with Viray early in her residency, she tells us she knows Resilience will be a demanding body of work to create, but she feels the opportunity has come at the right time.
“I felt really, really ready for it. Especially after all the work I’ve done leading up to it,” she says.
In August 2021, Viray shared her story of sexual assault with her followers on Instagram. She spoke of being molested at “age 12 or 13” by a “‘trusted’ relative”, and holding that secret until age 16, when she finally felt safe telling somebody about it.
“A heavy, painful burden was instantly lifted off of me,” she wrote. “I felt lighter, hopeful, loved and supported and I was finally able to start my healing process that I had waited so long for.”
Social media also formed a large part of the early stages of Viray’s exhibition. She conducted polls, asking her followers questions about their views on sexual assault, all for the purpose of education. This extra material won’t end up on the walls of The Mill, but it fulfilled her goal of facilitating discussion.
Viray then posted a call out for muses, inviting survivors to share their story with her through an open questionnaire.
“That had a huge response, surprisingly and very excitingly,” Viray beams.
Not everyone who responded was interested in being a portrait subject, some just wanted to share their story.
“I learnt a lot from [the questionnaires] as well,” Viray says. “I did so much research on the topic earlier in the year, and I thought I knew so much, but then, hearing other people’s stories – especially from people that I knew directly – it still opened my eyes.
“A lot of times people didn’t realise they were sexually assaulted. A lot of times they were very young.”
It’s easy to see why so many survivors have trusted Viray with their story; her openness allows others to be open with her.
Resilience is available to view at The Mill from Monday, 18 July, and will host an opening event on Friday, 29 July. But even before the exhibition opens, Viray has achieved so much of what she set out to do.
Viray hopes those who visit her exhibition take the opportunity to “learn from it”.
“It is all about how people respond to it and how it makes people feel and think,” she says.
Towards the end of Viray’s residency, in June, CityMag sits down with the artist again. The finish line is in sight, and we catch her working on a linocut work called ‘Dissociation’.
“It’s been a very chaotic six-months,” she says, as she ponders the way life seems to throw everything at you at once.
Though she’s reached the end of an enormous amount of work, Viray doesn’t plan on slowing down.
Viray already knows what’s next in her artistic journey. She’ll stay within The Mill’s community of artists, setting up a hand-poke tattoo studio with tattooist Alice Hu.
The studio space is connected to the gallery where Resilience is set up, so she’ll be nearby throughout the show’s run.
Resilience is on display at The Mill from Monday, 18 July, showing alongside Natalie Austin’s Memory of Water. The exhibitions are a part of the SALA Festival, and share an opening event on Friday, 29 July.
For more information and to register your attendance (free of charge), head to Eventbrite.