“Confronting”. That’s how Tim Whaitiri Henderson, of Dove Hawke’s Bay, describes the “Hopeful Horizons” exhibition that will be showcased as part of the 2023 Fotofest in Hawke’s Bay.

Photo: Paul Taylor

He recalls people breaking down in tears when they first saw the faces that lined gallery walls in Taranaki, and now he hopes the exhibit will help spread awareness of the support that’s available in Hawke’s Bay and help normalise what is often a very hard conversation.

“Hopeful Horizons” shares stories of courage, determination, and resilience of men from across Aotearoa – and the world – who have suffered sexual abuse.

It is spearheaded by the Bristlecone Project, a worldwide movement aimed at helping raise awareness of male sexual abuse survivors.

Men tell their individual stories openly and honestly. They are stories of suffering but also of triumph, healing and hope.

For the most part, that’s what Dove and Whaitiri Henderson are all about.

“It’s about normalising the conversation but ensuring the individual’s integrity is maintained,” he said.

Whaitiri Henderson has been in his role as male survivors co-ordinator for Dove for about five months. He’s worked with Fotofest organisers to help bring the powerful exhibition to Hawke’s Bay.

A survivor himself, he said he struggled with a sense of worthlessness that would often keep him down. It was investing time in himself and connecting with others that helped him recover.

“It’s not straightforward type of thing, it’s very self-motivated,” he said.

Dove Hawke’s Bay operates under nationwide service Tautoko Tāne, the national service for male sexual assault survivors.

Whaitiri Henderson said there is a space in Hawke’s Bay for men to connect and get the help they need.

“When they first come in, they’re shy and meek, like I was when I first came here. But then they turn up with big grins on their faces and life is going okay.”

Whaitiri Henderson said help could be as simple as going to the beach with someone because they’ve had a bad day or helping them find the right counsellor for their mental health needs.

“My big thing is to help guys feel the way that I do. I don’t give advice, because what do I know, but I’m there. I walk beside them and tell them what is available.”

Representatives from Dove and Tautoko Tāne will be in attendance on many of the Fotofest nights, joining curators of more than 20 exhibitions that will be set throughout central Hastings using retail windows, laneways and two pop-up galleries.

This year two international exhibitors join the lineup alongside a range of local and national photographers (including Hawke’s Bay Today’s Paul Taylor), contributing to a focus on advocacy and humanity.

Other notable artists include Tony Reddrop, Katie Hoy and Serena Stevenson.

When first seeing “Hopeful Horizons” in Taranaki, Whaitiri Henderson said he was struck by how impactful it was and saw how it benefited survivors.

“I met a whole lot of survivors there. It’s often a very lonely journey, you don’t talk about it often.”

He said feeling exposed could pose a challenge to survivors, but working with others and sharing could help create a better environment.

There are 24 Kiwis sharing their stories as part of the exhibition, one from Hawke’s Bay.

“It’s really about letting the community know what’s happening,” Whaitiri Henderson said.

“It’s kind of a weird one, because we want to say, ‘hey here we are’ but you’ve got to awhi [embrace] the guy’s stories and be respectful.”

He imagines the exhibit would have been an outlet for many of the men, as he reflected on how it felt when he shared his story.

“It was very triggering, but having the ability to talk about it is where the healing comes in. A lot of the guys I talk to are just grateful to be listened to and taken seriously.”

Event co-ordinator Shayne Jeffares said this year’s focus at Fotofest on humanity and advocacy involves many exhibits that share powerful and personal testimonies.

“We really wanted to ensure we had exhibitions that share stories of humanity and we have definitely achieved that in a way that only photography can.”

The Fotofest event runs from September 15 to 25.

Where to get help:

If it’s an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111

If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact safetotalk.nz confidentially, any time 24/7

Call 0800 044 334

Text 4334

Email support@safetotalk.nz

For more info or to web chat, visit safetotalk.nz

Alternatively, contact your local police station

If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it’s not your fault

By Mitchell Hageman
Published in NZ Herald