Violence Unseen (4 stars)

Violence Unseen

Powerful new series of portraits by Alicia Bruce commissioned by Zero Tolerance

Commissioned by Zero Tolerance, the campaigning charity which seeks to end men's violence against women, this small exhibition of photographic portraiture in the upstairs room of Edinburgh's Stills Gallery emphasises the quality of the work over the quantity. There are only seven photographs on display, including accompanying text, but the stories they tell – both within the frame and in the wider related experience of the subjects – are essential snapshots of where society is in terms of eradicating abuse.

The photographer is Edinburgh-based Alicia Bruce, whose work may be familiar from her documenting of the campaign against the construction of the Trump International Golf Links at Balmedie, near Aberdeen; her photograph of local campaigners Mike and Sheila Forbes in the style of Grant Wood's famous 1930 painting American Gothic is in the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland. She has been inspired, she says, by the photographs of Franki Raffles, one of the founders of Zero Tolerance, whose images caused a shift in the perception of domestic violence when they were first seen in 1992, and were used across the UK.

Although the culture of violence which Bruce's images raise awareness of appears to remain sadly unchanged, the form of its transmission has evolved. Picked out against a bleached-out Houses of Parliament across the River Thames behind her, Diane Abbott MP – the only subject neither Scottish nor making their home in Scotland – illustrates the disproportionate levels of online abuse which women in the public eye, particular black and minority ethnic women, receive; before the 2017 General Election, 45.14% of abusive tweets were aimed at Abbott.

In a wooden-floored living room, the feminist writer and activist Vonny Moyes works on her laptop, an unidentified female glimpsed in the mirror behind her. Bruce's photographs are designed to include items or people which mean something to her subjects and help illustrate their personality, and this picture of domestic tranquillity is at odds with the trauma of being subjected to a 'revenge porn' attack, as Moyes describes. There are also other people – both children – in Bruce's photographs of Indian-born trans woman and Forth Valley Rape Crisis Centre worker Mridul Wadhwa, and Gambian-born female genital mutilation campaigner Fatou Baldeh.

While the above methods of abuse are reflective of 21st century patterns of technology and migration in the UK, the facts of violence against sex workers (99% of whom have been victims of violence, with a statistically greater rate of injury than mining, forestry and firefighting) and disabled women are expressed by model-posed photographs which highlight organisations including Women's Support Project and People First (Scotland). Together they are a very human and sadly educational selection, and are surely ripe for touring and more widely accessible display in future.

Violence Unseen is at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 9 Sep.

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