Identified.

Jane Doe found on November 10th 1979 was identified was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander in January 2015.

Tammy Jo died from 2 gunshot wounds, one to the head and one to the back, when she was 16 years old. A missing persons report was filed for Tammy in August 2014. She was identified using DNA taken from her half-sister, Pamela Dyson, in 2014. Although Tammy died in New York, she was originally from Florida where she lived with her mother.

We can only hope that more Jane Does are identified, that closure may be brought to their cases and if not, than at least attention should be brought to the issues that affected their lives.

There are many reports and articles online where you can find out more concerning the life and death of Tammy Jo Alexander:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Tammy_Alexander#Identification 

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tammy-jo-alexander-1979-n-y-murder-victim-idd-as-long-missing-fla-teen/

http://www.people.com/article/police-id-teenage-girl-missing-35-years-tammy-jo-alexander

http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2015/01/30/tammy-jo-alexander-pamela-dyson-cali-missing-girl-murder/22598871/

Day 375 – The Message

Sitting in a cold, cramped, warmly lit room gazing at a year of my life in paint and canvas and quiet faces is, well, causing palpitations. Touch-ups and varnishing aside, I’m finished. And yet, it is now that the work begins. Funny, seeing as all I would like in this moment is to construct a fort and spend an unseemly amount of time curled in a cat-like ball sleeping.

One year and 10 days later I have a series of paintings that have changed me in such a visceral way that I can’t remember exactly who I was before the path of my life collided irrevocably and at times dangerously with the lives of these women. This is all for them and at times we would fight like old friends. I’m ashamed to say that there have been times where I have felt bitter, bewildered and bat-shit crazy for starting what I started. In 14 days, you too will be able to see what has forced me into a hermitage and made me seriously question my own sanity on numerous occasions. Before being unveiled here on this website dedicated to them, they will be shown for 2 weeks in my hometown in the window of a vacant building. Every passerby of the city centre premise will peripherally or intentionally see these women and hopefully take note of the far broader issue they represent.

Fear is not an adequate word. Fear is manageable, fear of embarrassment, fear of distaste, fear of disinterest – all of these things I could handle. My fear is that while I have been locked up forming relationships with women who I will never know I am unable to see whether I have in fact done what I set out to do. Justice to these women, their lives, their deaths, their unattainable stories. If I have failed them, I have failed. They are the beginning and they are the end and everything else is unimportant. When I began, there were 2,007 US Jane Doe’s, today there are 2,137. This isn’t going away and it’s getting worse.

I was asked if Blink. had a single most important message what would it be. What is the point? What purpose do these women play and what is the story these anonymous women have to tell? I had to think. In a year of thousands of words and thousands of paint strokes this project, like the body of work itself, grew in volume, in sheer weight of meaning and in stories to be told. So to hone this ever-expanding blade back down to it’s sharpest point took time and reflection.

Each of these 18 Jane Doe’s represent the millions, even billions, of other women throughout history and across the world who have been stripped of their identity, stripped of their potential and stripped of their value.

Much of the developed world objectifies and diminishes a woman’s worth to her dress size and much of the developing world ignores that women are their single greatest untapped resource. Global gender inequality is the single greatest civil rights issue of this century.

There are over 4.4 million female sex slaves worldwide – that is almost the entire population of the Republic of Ireland as slaves. Jane Doe found on 09.11.1998 represents these women.

Over 130 million women alive today are survivors of female genital mutilation or female genital cutting usually between infancy and the age of 15 – this is the population of France and the United Kingdom combined. By destroying the female sexual organs it is believed these girls will be easier to control. Jane Doe found on 10.11.1979 represents these women and girls.

Today, 2.6 billion women live in countries where rape within marriage is not a crime – this is over twice the population of North and South America combined. This is not to mention the billions of women living in both developed and developing countries where rape, in general, is given the blind eye. Jane Doe found on 07.12.1991 represents these women.

700 million women alive today were married as children (under 18) and over a third of these women were married before the age of 15 – this is close to the entire population of Europe. Jane Doe found on the 10.8.1982 represents these women  and girls.

Half the Sky Movement reports that globally, women aged between 15 and 45 are more likely to die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. Every single Jane Doe represents these women.

We are still living in a time when whatever way you look at it 50% of the world’s population are not equal based on their chromosomal make-up. Each and every Jane Doe in the world represents these women.

This is the quintessential message of Blink .and I only hope you join me in spreading this message as far as it can possibly reach with the hope that even one woman’s life may be changed for the better by the sacrifice of these disposable women.

Sources: Half the Sky Movement , UN Women

Day 205 – Restless

Seeing as Blink. is my first real artistic endeavour a studio space never really factored into the equation. Plus running the menagerie that is my home takes up another large portion of my time. So when I say I’m living with my work, I really am.

For the first few weeks it was fine, working on one canvas at a time. Then the other 24 came. And then I sketched each face onto each canvas using charcoal pencil for dark spots so that once paint was applied the sketch would peep through better. Then I hung them all around the room, the size of which meant that these black and white morgue images wallpapered my living space. This was when I realised how daunting my task was.

But because I find them beautiful and not morbid as others did I continued living this way for the past few months. When friends would visit I was met with shock and discomfort, and understandably so. I shifted from sadness to familiarity with these women long ago and I forget that I too experienced that very same guttural response. Last week I removed them from the walls, just for a change.

The only word I can use to describe it is restlessness. Constantly, I feel the need to adjust my patterns, move my paint stand, manoeuvre the room into a different configuration. I just can’t settle. Every so often I must try, to the best of my ability, defamiliarise myself with the work so that I may approach each piece with an alternative eye. As I’ve mentioned before, with Blink. I’m either in or out. I’m either intensely and solely engaged with the work or I put it to one side and welcome life back in again. Currently, my family and I are preparing for a landmark occasion and I simply know that I cannot give these women the attention and solemnity that they are owed while my mind is elsewhere. Of course this approach has it’s downsides, the work has slowed down immensely. I feel guilty, like I’m shirking my responsibilities and yet I’m sure that it’s the right decision in the long run.

 

Day 188 – January 30th, 1994

Unlike Jane Doe 1991, Jane Doe 1994 did not die under suspicious circumstances. Therefore, her case file is sparse yet leaves much to ponder. She was estimated to be between 60 and 75 years old, though judging by her photograph I would lean towards the latter.

Her face is striking and the contortion of her mouth is so that it appears as if she’s smiling, or even laughing. Just as striking is her black and gold patterned jumper. This was an interesting detail for me because hardly any of the morgue photos show the deceased’s clothing. Despite her senior age her skin is tight on her face and her cheeks are round yet prominent.

Jane Doe died in Philadelphia. Found inside an abandoned building, she was known to neighbours by sight only. They even conjectured that she may have been an alcoholic, or mentally ill, or both as they often saw her walking, bottle in hand, talking to herself.

She wore layers of clothing, presumably to escape the cold. She was found wearing 3 jumpers, a jacket, a hat, a scarf, a nightdress, trousers, stockings, two pairs of socks and steel toe cap boots. The boots surprised me, her photo is so ladylike, the friend or neighbour of my grandmother perhaps. How cold must she have been to wear all those clothes?

Questions swirl in an unsteady stream around my mind and I’m caught between trying to piece together the story of these women’s lives and recoiling from imagining for them a lie.

I suppose that’s where art comes in. I know that Jane Doe 1994 could be any of us and I know that people should recognise that but I don’t want to dishonour their lives by writing for them a story that never was. Truth is the central tenet of Blink. There are sketch artists out there who can make these women look like they may have in life, there are writers and directors who could re-imagine these women’s lives in far more convincing ways than I can. The best way I feel I can honour them is by giving them the time and the attention of a portrait. The images, many un-lifelike  are the only true life evidence we possess to represent them. I can only hope that these portraits do not isolate them further but it is my only response for what I see before me.

 

Illustration conceived while painting Jane Doe January 30th, 1994

Day 175 – December 7th, 1991

Yes, it’s been a long time and yes, there are reasons but they’re uninteresting and irrelevant so let’s move on.

Jane Doe was found on the above date days after she was murdered. Unlike her fellow victims in Blink. her murderer was found and convicted of sexual battery. He was acquitted of her homicide. His name is Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr.

I have spent the past week painting her portrait. Her face, aged between 25 and 40 years old, is slightly perfect. The proportions, the bone structure, the lips – if it wasn’t for the grainy black and white photograph and the tight, papery quality of her skin I would swear she was just having a beauty nap. This is so difficult to write about, even more difficult to paint. I’ve had a crisis of faith of sorts in the past weeks, I lost something and it was with this and another portrait I completed this week that I forced myself to reclaim my passion.

There was no moment of clarity, no spark of inspiration I simply had to sit down and doggedly immerse myself in the work once again. I discovered that balance is impossible in Blink. I cannot delegate between the joys of daily life, of summer and then return to the immense pressure I have laid on myself with this endeavour. I am in or I am out. I’m painting 13 hours a day or 0 hours. There is no middle ground. Unhealthy, perhaps but unfortunately I have yet to find an alternative.

Every time I added another layer of paint to this canvas, every time I screwed up a section and had to restart, every time I wanted to give up I just kept repeating, ‘This woman was murdered.’ Not only was she murdered but no one has lain claim to her for almost 23 years.

Her case file tells us she had given birth to at least one child. How old is he/she? Did they know their mother? Are they still alive or do they have their own place in the unidentified persons database? The questions are endless and yet the facts surrounding her death seem quite clear.

Days after she was raped and murdered, a hiker came across her semi-naked body in the woods in Lake County, Florida. He first thought she was a mannequin. It’s possible that her brown hair with blonde tips camouflaged with the stack of tree limbs she had been temporarily buried beneath. The defence alleged the crime scene had been botched; incompetent investigators brushed debris out her multiple stab wounds after initially concluding that she’d been killed (and covered?) by a bear. Later however, after fully uncovering the posed corpse they discovered a glass bottle protruding from her neck, framed by strangulation marks. A stolen Land Rover was found nearby, the detectives working the case questioned it’s owner but later ruled him out.

Then something happened. Or more correctly, nothing happened for almost 4 years. The case lay dormant, along with Jane Doe’s identity.

February 1995 – a computer matches Joseph A. Rolle’s DNA with semen left on the victim. And suddenly Florida, and some argue, the nation was transported into the modern age of criminal justice.

Like many sex offenders, one victim was never going to be enough for Rolle. And Jane Doe probably wasn’t his first. With a charming demeanour, Rolle found no trouble in attracting women. But he had a reputation for diverging the anger of apparent ill’s in his life onto prostitutes. According to police, when things went wrong at home he picked up working girls and raped them. Of course, the case is the same now as it was then, the word of a street girl is never good enough. Perhaps if someone had listened, Jane Doe could have been spared the brutalisation she endured. In 1992, someone did listen but not to a prostitute. Holding a hacksaw to her throat to enforce compliance Rolle violently raped a woman in a friend’s home.

He was sentenced to a meagre 18 months in a state penitentiary. He served 6 months and was released to choke and forcibly rape another woman four times. He lured her with the promise of crack cocaine which indicates she may have been a sex worker and so instead of being arrested for sexual battery he was held on the lesser charge of violating his probation. A pattern has seemed to emerge in the convict’s ferocious violence. One victim reported a hacksaw being held at her throat whilst the other was choked. Meanwhile, Jane Doe gets the full package – she was strangled and stabbed in the neck with a glass bottle. Rolle had a record of other crimes ranging from drunk driving to burglary.

After his previous conviction Rolle’s genetic marker is submitted to what was then a state-wide computer database and hey presto the police have a match.

Rolle became one of the first people in the nation to be accused and convicted by a centralised DNA databank. The trial was predictable. The defence argued against the prosecution’s standard of evidence and investigation while the state attorney’s office needed little once the integrity of DNA evidence was explained to a jury who then would have known little on the subject.

The jury came back with a guilty verdict on the sexual battery but felt they could not be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he went on to kill the victim.

Thankfully, justice would have it’s day. Unlike so many sex crimes both then and today Rolle was not under sentenced. Judge G. Richard Singeltary went above and beyond the sentencing guidelines for Rolle’s crime which was set between 12 and 40 years.

Joseph Algernon Rolle Jr. was sentenced to life in prison where he still resides.

Once again, just as outlined in my previous post, the only reason I was able to recover this information was because the perpetrator’s identity was discovered and made public. Otherwise Jane Doe’s case would only be the sum of the parts of her case file. Justice was served and yet I can’t help feeling unsatisfied. There was no family, no friends sitting on the sidelines to support and remember their loved one while her alleged killer sat comfortably with his mother and sister at his back. The survivor of the first attack for which he was convicted sat solemnly at the sentencing hearing and gave a defiant fist pump to know that she could finally move on with her life.

I hope she thought of herself as sitting in hypothetical solidarity with Jane Doe and all of Rolle’s past and potential future victims too. Jane Doe, in unknowingly sacrificing her life ensured that no more women would fall prey to the barbarity of Rolle.

An earring found with the body of Jane Doe.

 

Day 115 – Headlines

Philip Zimbardo – “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can sometimes kill you.”

Since the latest massacre in the US hit the headlines in the past week the internet has simply erupted with articles, videos and commentary addressing the topics of toxic misogyny, white middle-class male expectation and sexual harassment. Here, only 30 days ago did we argue these same points.

The facts remain that 2 women and 4 men are dead and once again in the wake of a killing spree the victims identities are of less interest than that of their executioner. Browsing through countless reports in the last 6 days I only once came across the victims names, in brackets. Most of the media-obsessed globe knows about the killer, knows his name, wants his entire medical and family history, wants to read his ‘manifesto’ and has seen the image of his sun-drenched face as he sat relaying the woes of his existence days before his final performance.

No one can object to opening discourse on subjects that have been under-debated for years but the problem is that it’s extremely difficult to foresee any real change coming from this. The Isla Vista gunman will have his fifteen minutes of infamy and so will the issues his crimes have shone the spotlight on. By focusing on him as the archetypal white male misogynist only gives him the attention and platform he craved all along. Why not sever all reference to the ‘Virgin Killer’ and leave him and his hatred to live in the dust where it belongs.

Roughly 88 people suffer from gun deaths each day in the US, someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail and there are an estimated 5,000 honour killings internationally per year.

So while discussing gender based violence is an essential endeavour in ending it major online publishers need to maintain this dialogue because as tragic, horrifying and reprehensible as this massacre was it was one instance in an hourly, global epidemic.

And it seems ironic that once again for attention to be called to an international phenomenon it takes a white, middle to upper class man to do it, in the most deranged way he could imagine. All the while organisations of both women and men such as The Joyful Heart Foundation, The Representation Project, Ms. Magazine, Jezebel, RAINN, The Everyday Sexism Project and countless others have been vying for this kind of media coverage on gender based violence for years.

We, as a species, are supremely susceptible to suggestion. It is how the most heinous war crimes are committed, how genocide is justified and how prejudice and discrimination thrive. I have spoken before of the devastating effects of dehumanisation and of the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dynamic. Where, in the Western world, religion and politics once dictated social attitudes the media is now our president, our lord and our moral compass.

It’s as if in the last 7 days since the killings the world has suddenly realised that misogyny still exists, in every race, class and age group. Only instead of such men thinking, ‘Women should be homemakers and child bearers’ they are thinking, ‘Women should accept my sexual advances without question.’ How utterly devastating it is however that since asking in my last post – When will it be enough? I have in a way received my answer. A mass murder incited by sexist hatred is what it took when any given day we can find news reports of women being stoned to death for no reason.

Mind-boggling doesn’t even cover it.

Every meaningless loss of life is equally tragic but every meaningless loss of life does not receive the same press coverage.

All we can do is hope that this discourse does lead to social change  but unfortunately I fear that the media, the kingpin of culture, will still go unnamed, unmarred and unblamed.

Katherine Breann Cooper

Veronika Elizabeth Weiss

Cheng Yuan Hong

Weihan Wang

George Chen

Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez

 

 

To learn more on any of the topics raised in this article, here are but a few interesting resources:

Joyful Heart Foundation

The Representation Project

National Council of Women Ireland

The Everyday Sexism Project

Honor Based Violence Awareness Network

Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network

 

 

Day 100 – Without a Voice

It does not feel like 100 days have passed but if I look at what’s been achieved in that time it begins to sink in.

We have raised €700 that has been spent on paint, canvases and a daylight lightbulb which allows me to work well into the wee hours, I have the bones of 8 paintings done while the other 17 canvases hang around my walls baring the pencil-sketched faces I now live with and our small but significant efforts have been recognised by people such as Carol Morely, director of Dreams of a Life.

Since beginning Blink. I’ve been asking myself night after night: Why women? There are just as many if not more John Does out there so why is it that I focused solely on the women. I’m female – that’s one feeble excuse. I’m a feminist – but yet this isn’t a feminist issue. And as I questioned myself tirelessly trying to invent an answer if one did not inherently exist I thought perhaps I should not voice my concern and hope no one else noticed either.

Then, as I spent a dismal night painting and watching a documentary which I can no longer remember the details of I had an epiphany. It was a historical film set around the protesting against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s and one of  the leading members of the movement had been asked how he got involved.

He replied: Well, you know, it’s like all things. I met a girl.

Suddenly, as if the haze of vanilla scented candles and distant sounds of cars scuttling through puddles ceased to exist, there it was – the reason why Blink. had to be about women. The faces that paper my walls as I write are the embodiment of the nameless woman but they are not the only ones.

On Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential figures throughout history only 3 women grace the well prepared list. 2 were queens and therefore, had a better chance than most.  But how many women in history have stood behind men, in the shadows and held them strong as they etched their names into the history books. They are the ones who are remembered, written about and exalted. Meanwhile, we will never know the names of the women who bore them upright, women throughout time who may have had more to say than their male counterparts but were simply never given the opportunity to explore their own vision as cognitive, unique, important human beings. How many potentially brilliant minds have been lost between the lines of historical texts. For centuries, half the population were considered sub-standard. They simply weren’t worth the time. In a way, I like to think the women of Blink. both stand for themselves but also represent the countless generations of voiceless women.

We have come so far and yet it’s disheartening how much is left to do. As of 2014, political representation for women is still far less than perfect in the US, UK and indeed, Ireland.

The simple logistical fact is that as long as 50% of the entire population is underrepresented in the country’s decision making – the wrong decisions are going to be made. As long as women don’t think that their voice matters, they will never fight to be heard. This isn’t some ‘feminazi propaganda’ as many would have you believe, it’s simple psychology.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union website has the largest grid for outlining female distribution among the world’s governments. Again we are faced with the harsh reality that the countries we condemn for being seemingly misogynistic or anti-feminist could teach us something.

Rwanda are world leaders in female political representation holding 51% of the seats across the lower and upper house. In third is the much maligned Cuba with 48.9%. Who else puts the “progressive” US, UK and Ireland to shame. Here’s to mention but a few: South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Uganda, Serbia, Guyana, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Singapore, China and Iraq. The UK rank 65th with 23% of seats held by women and the US 84th with 19%. In the meantime more countries pop up ahead of Ireland like Israel, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Ireland places 92nd with only 15.6% female representation.*

Hearing such statistics makes you want to bow your head and avert your eyes and ask how we ever fooled ourselves so much. The only female voices we hear are Nicky Minaj, Megan Fox and Kim Kardashian. Yes, feminism is about choice and if you choose to utilise your sexuality to achieve your ambitions who am I to judge? But this doesn’t mean we should not question and consider the motives behind these choices.

If we are so autonomous, so empowered why are so many of us still striving for the same goal of the sexual ideal? While young men are pressured to become economically successful women are just as influenced to strive for cosmetic success. If we say we are just as capable as men then why are we the backing dancers to a male government? Surely when a large percentage of us are making similar if not the same decisions we can’t call ourselves independent thinkers.

If I’m sounding judgmental that is certainly not my intention. I’m just genuinely confused because I succumb to the same pressures the vast majority of young women do. I’m still trying to find the perfect way to remove hair from their follicles, I have been of the mind that if you can’t wear a bikini there’s not much point going to the beach, I still search for the ideal foundation that is heavy duty but doesn’t sit in the natural pores of my face and I religiously subject my hair to chemicals whose names I could not dream of pronouncing.

Again, I cannot express enough how this is not the common man’s fault, they are as conditioned as we are.

But I’m just a young woman, balancing precariously somewhere between apathy and fury all the while trying to convince myself I’m not insane for feeling this way. You just have to ask when is this going to end? The Women’s Movement never declared themselves finished and yet we all presume Feminism is a thing that happened not something that is still happening and perhaps more than ever needs to revitalised.

It has been living on the respirator for far too long.

When Will it be Enough

*Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union