With social activism on the rise, every day we see new ways of demonstrating and raising awareness about topics close to us. Through every social and political movement, art has always been at the forefront challenging beliefs, inspiring individuals, and making a difference. Martina Maya-Callen is a senior at Salisbury University who has previously and continues to be talked about because of the socially conscious pieces she creates.
Most notably, Martina received international attention for an installation sculpture and performance art piece at Salisbury University dealing with the realities of living with an eating disorder, and was named among the top 13 most inspiring body positive moments of 2017 by Cosmopolitan.
Martina spoke with me about her upcoming art show The Unspoken: Voices of the Voiceless which focuses on the lives and experiences of sexual assault survivors and spoke about her own experiences as a survivor, how allies can support other survivors, and how you can get involved with her piece.
Her Campus (HC): How did you become inspired to create this kind of piece?
Martina (M): As a sexual assault survivor, I have always felt that my voice was stripped from me. It took me years to be able to confront my first experience of sexual assault and honestly it was something that I was shameful of.
It was something by society that I was told to never speak of and I never felt safe. I always felt it was something I had to hide. And then a few years ago, my freshman year was actually the first that I said, ‘My name is Martina Maya-Callen and I am a survivor of sexual assault.’
At that point everything completely changed for me because I recognized that I CAN share my story.
From there, I propelled into continuing to tell my story, but through something that I loved, which was art. What actually started this was me loving art and me recognizing that I could no longer be silent, so I decided to create for social change.
I wasn’t even realizing what I was doing, at first, I simply thought I was telling my story. But then I recognized so many people also shared the same story and through that is where I found my power – my internal power and then also my power to hopefully break the silence for other survivors and to help them share their stories.”
HC: What made you decide to open this piece to other survivors?
M: “I wanted to open the platform to have survivors share their stories because I know what it’s like to feel like you were shut down, and I know what it’s like to be silenced by society and by people around you, and I don’t want that to be how survivors feel.
I want them to have a place where they can share their story – a poem, a picture, anything. They can do so with their name or anonymously so that they can either have that first step to sharing their story, or they can be projecting their voice and be a part of the outcry that is an epidemic in our society. This is not something that is happening very seldom, this is something that is happening all the time.
The numbers and statistics don’t even accurately represent the amount of people who are actually assaulted due to the amount of unreported assaults. So, for me it all stems from wanting to share my story, recognizing how many other people resonated with it, and then getting fueled by this social injustice and need to break the silence and spread awareness.
For these issues, I don’t see a better way to talk about sexual assault than to include survivors in telling their stories because I find the power of stories so distinct. It’s so meaningful to me and I’m so excited for this piece.”
HC: How many people have submitted to your piece so far?
“So far, I’ve had about 30 submissions. I am actively seeking more because I feel that the unity of more survivors will be an even bigger catalyst for spreading social awareness and social change, and to depict how much of a problem this is not just for women but for men also, and not just on college campuses but throughout the world.
I’ve received submissions not just from students at Salisbury University or just students in general, but also from people of all ages and all background throughout the United States. I have also talked to people internationally and I’m hoping to be able to include their voices within the piece.”
HC: When and where can we expect to see the piece when it’s completed?
“This piece will be installed in Synergy, which is an art show exhibition by the senior graduating [art] class of Salisbury University. There are two separate shows, one on campus at the Fulton Hall University Gallery, however my piece will actually be installed in the downtown gallery for the fine arts show which will have its reception on Dec. 7.”
HC: Based on the current state of our county and the ideals surrounding sexual assault do you think it’s important to have these tough conversations despite how painful they can be?
M: “I undoubtedly think it is necessary to have these conversations. A component of my art work that I feel is the most essential is the fact that I try to utilize art as a platform to ignite conversations about tough topics.
This goes without saying though that I do feel that self-care is absolutely necessary. As a victim and survivor, everything that has been going on in the news has been absolutely and undoubtedly triggering, however these conversations have started and have been actually covered in the news and in the media which I think is very important in the capacity to spread awareness.
I think that these conversations are painful, difficult and personally it is hard sometimes to use art to display these messages, but as actually having been assaulted the pain is not comparable when having these difficult conversations.
When I think about having a conversation and people knowing that I’m a survivor and then them feeling comfortable telling me their story before anyone else, that to me is a privilege. Being able to be somebody’s stepping stone to tell their story or even just to state that they are a survivor, that is where I find my drive to continuously talk about these hard topics.
Because yes, it is hard, but you can see the progression and you can see survivors telling their story because they’re recognizing it is a safe space and we will stand by them telling their story. I think conversations are essential and have been completely amazing in spreading awareness but I do think that individuals need to practice self-care while doing so.
If self-care is removing yourself from social media or the news for a day, then practice it. If that means meditating for you, practice it. If it means you personally leaving the conversation when someone is talking about sexual assault that is understandable. I think that people need to take care of themselves first and be an activist when you’re charged.”
HC: If you can share – what is the project going to consist of?
M: My new piece is called “The Unspoken: Voices of the Voices.” The installation is actually a continuation of a solo show from 2016, composed of numerous components and the sharing of stories will be represented in different ways throughout the installation including photographs, personal stories, social media posts, and in other means survivors wish to depict their stories.
HC: What do you say to the people who think this topic is inappropriate or that this [University] isn’t the place to do this?
M: “To them I would say I don’t understand how spreading awareness for social issues is ever inappropriate or not the place. For me if this social issue, if this social injustice, if this violence is taking place, we need to be talking about it regardless of the location and regardless of whether it makes people feel uncomfortable.
Because the truth is, especially on a university campus; this is taking place on the weekends, this is taking place on our campus, this is taking place at parties and in homes and if we’re not talking about it then we’re just silencing people.
To me being silenced is one of the most violent acts that you can do to an individual that is not physical. I personally felt silenced by society for so long and the capacity to tell my story feels as if it is a privilege, and I think that all these groups like MeToo, Believe Women, and Why I Didn’t Report help just by talking about the culture of our society. Conversations are essential to our progression as a society to hopefully eradicate sexual assault and assist in its prevention.
HC: What can allies do to support this project and further support survivors on an on-going basis?
M: “For allies, I think that first it’s important to recognize or demonstrate yourself as someone that somebody can go to. I think that is so hard right now seeing comments and hearing people say things such as ‘Women without evidence can’t prove their cases’ and I hear this all of the time where it’s people telling their story, not even in relation to Dr. Ford, in a completely non-political way but individually, and then somebody will state ‘Well where’s your evidence, you can’t actually prove it happened so did it?’
To be an ally you need to demonstrate yourself as someone that can be reached out to. You should educate yourself on the resources in your area to help an individual that has been assaulted. If you don’t already know what the resources are, you can google them, and just simply sit with the survivor.
Sometimes all we need is to be able to tell someone what is going on. I think that as an ally the best thing an individual can do is to listen and to navigate support services for that individual so that they can propel them in their next step, regardless of whether it is reporting the crime or finding help through a counselor or other services so that the survivor can get on-going and continuous help.”
HC: What’s the best way to for people to stay caught up with your pieces?
M: “The best to stay caught up with my personal pieces is through my Instagram account which is my full name @martinamayacallen.
Usually my last name is hyphenated but on Instagram it is not. I also have a website which is martinamayacallen.com and it has some of my updated pieces. My Facebook page under the same name also has numerous media posts.
I have different information on each of them but am working towards having all of the information displayed so that you can be updated, especially because a lot of my pieces deal with the integration of not only my work but also the community.
I love the interaction of community and other voices within my art so please stay up to date on what I’m doing, and I hope that you will get involved if not with my current piece than with a piece in the future.”
HC: What has been your favorite work so far?
M: “For me, one of the most meaningful pieces I’ve created regarding sexual assault is my ‘I Am A Survivor’ piece. Within this piece I feel that I am the most vulnerable that I can, being naked and being covered in red, and looking up, almost looking for hope. The complete background of the piece is the word “victim”, and for me, this piece is directly related to when I learned the survivor vocabulary as a survivor of sexual assault.
HC: Who inspires you to do this kind of work, and work on an on-going basis to advocate for survivors?
“What inspires me most is the people that I not only interact with every day, but also the people I know that are in the world. For me I am a huge advocate for spreading awareness for sexual assault but I’m also a huge advocate for numerous different issues such as women’s right, reproductive rights, the global economic inequality crisis, and for mental health awareness.
I want to help recognize that there are so many marginalized individuals in our society that have lost their voice and if I have the capacity to talk about these social issues then I feel like it is my obligation because I do not see how I can have a voice and not use it, regardless of if it is for an issue that I am a part of. I think that it’s absolutely necessary and through my art have found such a therapeutic outlet for me to be able to have these discussions and ignite these conversations. I just find my greatest happiness through what I do and by creating social change through art.”
The amount of happiness that I get starting a conversation with someone or educating someone a little bit more about a specific topic or providing resources for somebody who needs help means so much to me because I feel like it is a ripple effect.
When I learned that I am a survivor of sexual assault my entire perspective on life was completely changed, and if I can help another individual recognize they are a survivor you never know where this ripple effect will go and the amount of change it can create within society. So to me, it just feels completely right to be working to spread awareness or to be protesting or to making art or to be talking – anything to get these conversations started.”
For more information regarding Martina’s work you can follow her online at
Facebook: Martina Maya-Callen
If you’re interested in participating in her upcoming piece go to https://goo.gl/forms/bkSjDacmAyEALYWJ2 to share your story.
Need Help? Available Resources
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
Salisbury Life Crisis Center: 410-749-4357
Salisbury University Counseling Center: 410-548-4052
(All photos courtesy of Martina Maya-Callen.)