Peruvian American solo artist and mental health advocate Shannen Roberts grew up hearing bedtime stories of Inca princess Cusi Coyllur. Inspired by the tales of this indigenous woman, Roberts has taken Coyllur’s name in a quest to share music, deconstruct trauma and heal herself.
Coyllur’s newest project—a dance interpretation of the physical, emotional, sexual and psychological experience of domestic abuse—works to not only demonstrate the prevalence of domestic violence but also highlight why many survivors can’t simply leave abusive partners. The music video for “amivulnerable?” is both a dark reminder of domestic violence’s chilling effect on women as well as a call to action to educate ourselves and defend the survivors in our lives.
A self-described queer and intersectional feminist, Coyllur draws inspiration from the work of women such as Bjork and Fiona Apple in order to create a video that she says she hopes “helps others understand the pain that trauma survivors go through and the urgency to stop normalizing abuse, especially the types that are often not recognized as harmful such as verbal abuse.” The melancholy audio, dim lighting and dark colors that characterize “amivulnerable?” embody the depression, pain and suffering inflicted on women through intimate partner violence.
The disturbing duet in which Coyllur attempts to detangle herself from the shadow of an abuser highlights how difficult it is to escape a violent relationship. The end of the video, which links to a free download of Coyllur’s “it’s not as simple as just leaving” zine, provides an educational tool filled with interviews and resources so that we can better understand domestic abuse and support the survivors in our communities.
Throughout “amivulnerable?,” the footage of Coyllur dancing against her abuser alone demonstrates the isolating nature of intimate partner violence as well as represents the gendered nature of domestic violence. Indeed, the video’s feminist lens points us to the alarming facts that 85 percent of domestic abuse victims are women and that women account for two out of three murder victims killed by an intimate partner; that LGBQ people and people of color experience elevated rates of domestic violence and that transgender people of color are 2.6 times more likely than their cis counterparts to experience violence at the hands of their partners. By using visual cues to posit domestic violence as a tool of patriarchy and, subsequently, by pointing to these statistics, Coyllur’s narrative exposes intimate partner violence as a tool of domination.
Considering that the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ (NAMI) Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is wrapping up and the National Network to End Domestic Violence’s (NNEDV) Domestic Violence Awareness Month is just beginning, it is no coincidence that Coyllur released “amivulnerable?” in the beginning of October. This timed release signals the link between mental illness and domestic abuse as well as exposes the fact that survivors, most of whom are women, are more likely to experience mental illness—including symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts/actions.
“amivulnerable?” is a dark visual narrative and a possibly triggering representation of destructive relationships and mental illness. It is also an opportunity to heal through self-expression and build awareness as a step towards justice. Ultimately, Coyllur’s project pushes us to actively support the fight to end domestic violence as it reminds us to educate each other in order to fight for both the physical and mental safety of the women in our lives and around the world.