The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) has chosen the winner for its latest community art contest. The theme, “What It Means to be a Man” was chosen because of the societal constructs about manhood that drive intimate partner and sexual violence that are prominent in the world today. The winner’s work is currently being used in SCCADVASA’s marketing materials, including billboards (pictured above). One such billboard will be on display throughout April 2021 on Devine St in the Five Points area of Columbia.

The winner is Layla Davis, a 17-year-old AP art student at Dreher High School. A driven student artist who was already creating a portfolio centered on the topic of domestic violence in society, Layla’s art teacher let her know about the contest and encouraged her to enter her work.

“Domestic violence is a very real problem that happens across all age groups, and the only way that we can begin to end it is by bringing it to light, talking about it, and making it known,” says Davis. “That’s what I hope to do with my artwork.”

The winning piece uses a play of dark and light colors to show the shadowed outlines of a male figure whose ear is being whispered into by a female figure. What she is saying to him is not clear, but the words coming from behind his head show what is happening in his mind — a man who is struggling under the internal and external pressures to conform to the societal norms of hiding their feelings.

Davis feels like being heard is a universal need for everyone across the gender spectrum, not just for boys and men. After creating previous pieces featuring female characters (pictured alongside this article), Davis researched the topic of how men are not encouraged to talk about their experiences and the phenomenon of how big boys don’t cry. “Even at an unconscious level, men associate emotion with femininity which is a damaging concept,” says Davis. “Things should change, and they are, but it could definitely be better.”

Davis notes that she and her mom have discussed this topic and how important it is for parents to get involved and educate their children — both for awareness and prevention. “I hope for men who see this artwork, [they] will realize their experiences are not taboo and someone will listen, and they will be heard,” Davis says. “On the other side, I hope people will realize these things are going on behind closed doors and people will be more open to listening too.”

Awareness is the top priority for Davis as she debuts her work on domestic violence to the world and removing the stigma from the topic is part of her motivation as an artist.

SCCADVASA serves as the collective voice promoting the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault in South Carolina by raising awareness, advocating for effective policies, and providing extensive training and technical assistance to member organizations, advocates, and allies. Other than legal advocacy, they do not work directly with survivors. Their art contests are just one of the ways SCCADVASA is reaching out to the wider community to engage young people in their mission of ending sexual assault and domestic violence in the state.

Resources for parents, teens and educators can be found at www.levelupforchange.org.

Read the original article published April 15, 2021 in the Free Times / Columbia Post & Courier.