How Dianne Smith Turned A Domestic Violence Incident Into Art

Artist Dianne Smith 

 Domestic Violence Month
 “He pushed me on the bed, pinned me down, and started punching me in the face,” recalls Harlem-based artist Dianne Smith, the night her 6’6, 270 lb. boyfriend assaulted her. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened, and when she asked him to go, he refused. She considered calling the police, however, she couldn’t risk them coming to her apartment and potentially killing this ‘big Black man,’ which would only make the situation worse. Besides, she had an important meeting in the morning regarding an art piece she was creating for the 40-year anniversary of the play, ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf.’
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Instead, she called her best friend from across the street, and his best friend who lived nearby. Together they convinced him to pack his bags. When he was gone, Dianne began tending to her face, which now looked like a cartoon character. She also notified her neighbors about what happened in case he decided to come back. Sure enough, the next morning he was there, waiting on her doorstep. But so were her neighbors, who wouldn’t let him any where near her. Using them as a shield, she pressed forward and continued on to her meeting.

But as she walked down the street of her neighborhood, she noticed that something in her had changed. “I had my hat pulled down with my face covered, and I had to ask myself, who am I protecting? Am I worried about what people think? But I’d done nothing wrong. There was no reason for me to be ashamed.” In that moment, Dianne decided that if anyone asked her what happened to her face, she’d tell them the truth. It was in stark contrast to her Belizean upbringing where appearances are everything and you don’t go putting your business in the street.

As time moved on, her now ex-boyfriend continued his effort to get her back, leaving voice messages, some apologetic, some verbally violent. Her friends started pressuring Dianne to press charges, but she refused.

“I felt a lot of judgment, and people telling me what they would do. You don’t know what you will do until you are in that situation.” It was around that same time that Ray Rice was in the news for assaulting his then-girlfriend. Dianne found people judging her too. 
“People were quick to ask, ‘Why is she staying with him?’ when they should have been asking, ‘What’s wrong with him to hit a woman like that?'”

Fortunately, Dianne was able to get out of the relationship, but that’s not always the case. According to statistics, an estimated 50 women a month are killed by former or current partners. About 75 percent of the victims were killed as they attempted to leave or after they ended the relationship. And while Dianne didn’t want to have her ex arrested, she did take precaution. His recorded messages along with photos that she began taking of her face since the night of the assault, were sent to her brother. That way if anything ever happened it was documented. Ironically, it was these same photos that Dianne began to show her friends when domestic violence conversations came up, and the same photos that she would eventually use for her For Colored Girls art installation.

"One day, I re-read the poem 'Somebody Almost Walked Off Wid Alla My Stuff,' and a light-bulb went off. This poem is about a woman taking agency over herself. If I was going to do justice to the work, I had to be authentic and talk about what happened.”

Dianne had already sketched out the visual element of her piece, now it was time to create a video component. She chose three. For the first, she shows photographs of all the stuff in her apartment, while reciting the poem ‘somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.’ In the second, she shares actual images of her bruised face, while reciting domestic violence statistics. In a third, she interviews a diverse group of girlfriends from throughout the Diaspora who share powerful stories of stuff they’ve given away, lost or gotten stolen.

Dianne’s installation premiered at the Schomburg Museum in New York, and showed at both the African American Museum in Philadelphia and the Houston Museum Of African American Art.
Ultimately, she hopes that her work will continue to open minds, and show that domestic violence is not just a woman's issue. 

For more Dianne Smith, visit

Have you or someone you know been a victim of domestic violence? 

Erickka Sy Savané is the managing editor of, a wife, mom, and freelance writer based in Jersey, City, NJ. Her work has appeared in,,, and more. When she’s not writing...wait, she’s always writing! Follow her on Twitter, Instagram or  

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