The lines echoed in my head when I was browsing through a list of powerful images raising awareness of domestic violence (DV) and stopped at this picture, a part of the series His Presents by Martin Lever (UAE) (2008) for City of Hope:
This image is a powerful example of Semiotics – the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation – which probably is the backbone for the most efficient social campaigns.
The signifier is also referred to by Barther (cited in Fiske and Jenkins 2010, p. 80) as the “denotation” which is the “common sense, obvious meaning” of the sign, and the signified is the “connotation” which is the interpretant based on the reader’s “emotions […] and the values of their culture”. To make it easier to analyse the picture, I temporarily set aside the notion that “no sign is purely denotative” as nothing can be free of evaluative judgement (Chandler 1994).
The picture I chose is an X-ray image of a female hand with a wedding ring decorated with a heart on it and what looks like a broken thumb. Zooming in closer, you can see the signifiers more clearly, as these words come into view:
Behind the image, the signified is, to me, a newly-wedded woman who suffered from domestic violence exerted by her own husband, as alluded by the bone fraction in her thumb – her husband “asked for her hand” and then broke it.
The interpretation continues onto numerous layers of meaning, making this image (although not visually impressive and/or shocking like some others on the same topic) so influential.
The text is deliberately made very small in ratio to the entire image, suggesting that the stories of DV victims are not always explicitly and publicly told; they could hide their own sufferings, even. And the reason they do that and continues to stay with their abusive spouse might be that they still have hope in their love – what the heart on the ring implies, in those tender moments between the two spouses as captured by a witness of DV (Lewkowicz 2012).
When put alongside the rest of the image series, the picture helps convey an overall message about the vicious circle imprisoning the victims of DV: The husband gives his wife jewelry as gifts for occasions – wedding, anniversary, birthday – followed by repeatedly giving her broken bones as results of his violent abuse.
Sadly, sometimes the sufferings might only come to an end when the woman’s life does.
Chandler, D 1994, Semiotics for Beginners.
Charles, C 2015, I Got Flowers Today – A Poem to Battered Women, FEMMEPOWERED, weblog post, 13 November, viewed 18 March 2017, <http://carlanacharles.com/a-poem-to-battered-women/>.
Fiske, J & Jenkins, H 2010, Introduction to Communication Studies, 3rd edn, Routledge, London.
Lever, M 2008, His Presents, image, City of Hope, viewed 18 March 2017, <http://www.creativeadawards.com/client/?client=City+of+Hope>.
Lewkowicz, SN 2012, Domestic Violence, image, Time, viewed 18 March 2017, <http://time.com/3525038/photographer-as-witness-a-portrait-of-domestic-violence/>.
Malkin, C 2013, ‘Why Do People Stay in Abusive Relationships?’, Psychology Today, 06 March, viewed 18 March 2017, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/romance-redux/201303/why-do-people-stay-in-abusive-relationships>.