A New Angle on Self Love and Care: "Interior Violence" at CO Exhibitions

A New Angle on Self Love and Care: "Interior Violence" at CO Exhibitions

Published February 24th, 2020 by Nicole Thomas

Meg Lionel Murphy takes us into a reality where self love and care is a process of reflecting, taking control, and growing within ourselves.

Content Warning: This article mentions domestic violence and abuse.

Interior Violence, installation view. Photo by Josh Olson.

As I entered Interior Violence, I was greeted with a bubble-gum pink vanity mirror with red vinyl lettering for the artist statement. During the opening reception, the room was full of happy, excited people with drinks, and doll-sized furniture surrounded the space. Although the exhibition appears fun with bright colored patterns, light with pink undertones, and playful while people are surrounded by tiny dollhouse toys, there is an underlying message about domestic violence and trauma within the household. Murphy’s paintings come from her own experiences and help others find ways to communicate and cope with theirs.

How do victims of traumatic experiences in a home reflect on their past in the present? How do we take back control and change the narrative for our futures? 


Within the exhibition, there is a literal sense of reflection. Mirrors are hung throughout the exhibition. Some small and at eye level between paintings, reflecting small parts of yourself. There were larger mirrors with words from the artist herself and Virginia Woolf. A second reflection can be seen throughout the exhibition. Tiny furniture pieces scattered throughout the exhibition are replicated within her paintings. Looking through the exhibition altogether, I felt as if I was inside of a giant dollhouse that Murphy constructed.

Delving deeper into the work I found a reflection that had a more serious tone. As I observed Murphy’s work, there were opportunities to reflect on my own realities. I was enveloped in familiar objects: tractors, toy ponies, dollhouses with tiny furniture, feminine forms in relaxed positions, and various daily-life scenes such as casually lounging on the sofa in my underwear. 

While I was at the opening reception, there was a part of me that fully understood I was safe in Minneapolis. However, another part couldn’t deny growing up in rural Minnesotan homes. The kind of homes that appeared beautiful on the outside, but were actually stressful and dangerous on the inside. I found myself flashing back to heavy childhood experiences throughout the night. Even though I encountered this, I found relief by losing myself in the paintings. The replicated tiny furniture gave me a sense of control. The intricate floral patterns helped me concentrate on the present moment. The expressions on the subject’s faces were neutral, rather than upset, sad, or angry. Depending on my mindset, I felt the expressions were communicating calmness, which helped me stay calm. I also saw myself in them as they appeared disassociated and distant.

Interior Violence, installation view. Photo by Josh Olson.

Taking Back Control

In the context of dolls, childhood, and control, I think of common rules and expectations we learn when we’re young. Children play with dolls to create fantastical stories. Dollhouses give children a great amount of control over their current situation. Dolls are also used in therapy sessions to reenact or change life scenarios. Playing house helps children socialize and understand societal norms within a happy home. For instance, when I played house it was common knowledge that:

The bathtub is supposed to be in the bathroom, not the kitchen.

A good house is at least two stories high.

A household has a mom, dad, two children, and a dog.

After you cook and eat, you have to clean the dishes.

There are rules to living in a home, like you can’t stand on the roof. It’s dangerous.

For some, the reality of a household isn’t represented in the games we played. Murphy wrote about this in her statement:

"The presence of toys and child’s drawings underscore the loss of girlhood, and the dreams children hope for when ‘playing house.’ What we didn’t imagine as children was that 1 in 7 adult women and 1 in 25 adult men have been injured by an intimate partner."

While at home as a child, I learned that verbal abuse was normal, domestic violence was just “tough love,” and to never tell anyone what happened behind our doors. Playing house gave me an opportunity to take control of my surroundings. As I’ve grown up, I decided to make the fantasy into a reality by pursuing better living situations, curating a chosen family, and creating new patterns in my daily life.

Interior Violence, installation view. Photo by Josh Olson.

Growth in Recovery

Why would distressing experiences be represented in a happy and playful environment? Not all pain needs to be dark and dismal. Surviving and recovering is empowering. Lessons we learn through trauma are scars that do not disappear easily, whether you learn them in childhood or adulthood. Trauma is addressed in various ways. From my experience, it was a process of identifying triggers, unlearning habitual actions or thought patterns, and loving in a completely new way.

Murphy’s paintings depict a new beginning for people who have endured trauma. Floral forms embrace feminine forms, as if overgrowing their environments. They stretch beyond the canvas and join with the adjacent paintings. Groups of womxn in the paintings appear to be in conversation with each other, some in similar poses reflecting the same stories. One is submerged under water, grasping a plant above water as if they are starting their journey to recovery.

In her statement Murphy writes, “exposure to long term, significant domestic violence statistically increases rates of suicide in women across racial and economic backgrounds.” The variety of social dynamics, locations, and daily life scenarios in her work shows that everyone has a different background and path through their recovery. Even though their experiences may differ, we share the same goal: growth in ourselves.

As a survivor I understand that trauma can be discovered and rediscovered by triggers. I feel it’s important when talking about trauma such as domestic violence, abuse, or sexual violence to always provide resources for anyone who needs help now. I wish I could provide a larger library in this article, but finding space at Murphy’s exhibition might be what you need, too.
Sexual Violence Crisis Line: 612-871-5111
Minneapolis Domestic Violence Crisis Line at Tubman: 612-825-0000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: text MN to 741741
More about Cognitive Process Therapy (CPT) for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as noted in Murphy’s statement: cptforptsd.com/

The artist in situ. Photo by Josh Olson.

Meg Lionel Murphy’s solo exhibition, Interior Violence, is on view at CO Exhibitions through February 28th. Gallery hours are M-F, 12-5pm. The artist will be present on Saturday, February 28th, from 12-3pm.

For more info on Meg Lionel Murphy, visit the artist's website or follow on Instagram.

Banner image: This Is War, gouache on Arches paper, 38 x 51", 2019. Photo by Josh Olson.

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