In his soul-scraping project The Secret Ocean, Norwegian artist Reinhardt Søbye uses manipulated photographs to show the traumatic imprint left on his partner, Ida Hagen, from a 10-year marriage in which she says her then-husband continually raped and beat her. The pair did not hold back images that seemed too personal. They did just the opposite.
"If it didn't make me cry we didn't show it," says Hagen, who contributed the accompanying text for an exhibit at Boxheart Gallery. "It had to hit me in the stomach for it to pass the test."
In Søbye's portraits of Hagen, she wears pained expressions and is coated in shadows, some natural, some conjured in Photoshop, and some the result of charcoal applied to the large-scale prints. Ominous hands and ghostly figures occasionally appear.
A close-up of Hagen with an exasperated expression is "a picture is of me when I am exiting the shower," she reveals during a recent interview via Skype. "The shower was one of the places where I was most frequently attacked. In that picture, I am having a panic attack."
Though the anguish is palpable, you might not link the images to domestic violence if not for Hagen's stark words. An example: "During the abuse I would be far, far away, and all that was left in bed was something he felt rightfully belonged to him, only a tool to prove this and to keep me in my place. I wonder if he ever noticed my absence."
Søbye "[is] not one of those artists who stands back and thinks the viewer should just get it," says Nicole Capozzi, owner/director of Boxheart.
The Secret Ocean complements an earlier project, depicting Hagen's care of her autistic twin sons. "Her interaction with her children seemed to me to be a little nugget of gold in a world dedicated to cold profit and entertainment," says Søbye. "Then I got to learn more about her background and marriage and realized this story had a dark side."
One goal of Secret Ocean was to evoke trauma with photos taken in normal settings. "We wanted to show that sexual violence can happen within families and happen to middle-class women in their very homes," says Hagen. "It's not something that only happens on dark street corners."
THE SECRET OCEAN continues through Nov. 26. Boxheart Gallery, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. 412-687-8858 or www.boxheart.org