The Secret Keeper

We are excited to be working with Catherine Daniels to shine a light on her exhibition The Secret Keeper that we know will have an important impact on community understanding of the issues of childhood trauma and sexual abuse throughout New Zealand. The exhibition has already been shown in Palmerston North and Whanganui, and has provoked powerful responses in viewers from those communities.

After its initial exhibition in Whanganui at the Community Arts Centre, Russell Simpson the Chief Executive of Whanganui DHB invited Catherine to take The Secret Keeper to the hospital to help staff and public gain more awareness about childhood trauma and sexual abuse. A number of clinical psychologists have commented on how valuable the exhibition was both for their clients and for themselves in gaining a deeper understanding of the lived experience of complex trauma.

On the 21st of October the exhibition is opening in Wellington at the Exhibitions Gallery of Fine Art (20 Brandon Street) and we urge you to go along and see it in person. After Wellington, it is heading to Napier where it will be shown at the Community Arts Centre from the 18th March through to the 7th April.

It is extremely hard to talk about trauma and abuse and one story Catherine shared really resonated with us. She said: “My husband and I had been married for nearly eight years before my secrets made me sick enough, that I couldn’t hold them in any longer. When I opened up to him about my childhood sexual abuse, he struggled to cope. It was easier for him to shut his anger down and say all that stuff is grey. I don’t do grey. I only do black and white. He shut it out for over 25 years. We never spoke about it and when we did it caused a lot of pressure on everyone. When I made the first girl sitting on her suitcase with a small teddy bear beside her, I brought it inside to show him. He said “what’s that?” I told him it was me as a little girl and read him out a small piece of writing I had written. He just looked at it staring as if he could finally see what had been hidden inside of me all those years. That was the light bulb moment for him and the start of The Secret Keeper for me. Showing my husband what was hidden inside of me as something tangible that he could see and talk about was like pulling a plug out of a dam we had both built up. For the next five years, emotions flooded out as we talked about every sculpture and read each piece of writing. These sculptures and their story have shown him an entirely different way. He has completely changed and is now able to see and think in grey, not just black and white.”

The age range of people visiting has been from 4 years old to over 90. Many have opened up for the first time. One elderly lady visited and talked about her childhood trauma. Catherine recalled: “The next day she returned and waited to speak with me. She handed me her journal with a pencil drawing of two faces. The first face had stitches covering the mouth. The second face, the mouth was open with no stitches, but tears of red blood were around the mouth and dripping down the face. She talked with me some more and said ‘thank you for taking the stitches off my mouth, but there is still pain and hurt inside’. I handed back her journal and felt the power of her drawing and the conversation it had started.” Catherine also spoke about a small girl who looked at one of the sculptures with many faces inside her tummy and turned to her mother and said to her ‘see mummy I told you I had them in my tummy just like that little girl’

Originally the exhibition contained 49 sculptures, but they keep growing. Catherine has created 7 new sculptures for Wellington that haven’t been exhibited before. There will also be some sculptures for sale at the Wellington exhibition. Catherine has worked with a team of creatives who have provided vital support and who have brought their own skills to help share Catherine’s story and make it accessible in a range of formats.

Catherine has created a book that brings her words and sculptures together. It is both beautiful and extremely moving. The Secret Keeper has been published by Joan Rosier-Jones and Gayelene Holly of Tangerine Publications. They have been such an important part of Catherine’s journey. From the first day Catherine met with Joan, she talked with her and supported her every week over a five-year period to help get all Catherine’s childhood trauma written down on paper.

Award-winning photographer Esther Bunning is also a vital part of the team. She has made a new range of prints featuring Catherine’s sculptures for Wellington and for the first time a limited edition range. Esther’s work is organic and emotive, and adds another level of humanity to the work. She helps people view the world a little differently than what they’re used to, with her creative use of in-camera techniques and a love of unconventional storytelling. Using her visual voice to make a difference, or bring awareness for those who can’t speak for themselves is something she is passionate about. There is also a video that plays at every exhibition made by Terry Hann that shows some beautiful images of the girls in the studio and being made.

These sculptures enabled Catherine to portray her emotions and trauma in something tangible that others could see and start to understand. “The power my husband and I have found in turning my emotions into the writing and these sculptures has had a huge impact on our own lives and the lives of others”.

We asked Catherine if she had anything she wanted to say to the White Ribbon community and this is her response: “The Secret Keeper project is the most powerful thing I have ever done. There are so many different ways to deal with trauma, violence isn’t one.”

The book, photographs, sculptures and box sets are available on the website. Catherine has generously given us three box sets to give away over the next three weeks. If you would like to go in the draw to win one of the sets below all you need to do is follow this link, like it and share it on your social media page. Then please send a screen shot to either or message White Ribbon on FB to go into the draw. One box set wlil be drawn each week.

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