This mural contains powerful hidden messages

Domestic violence is an issue that is too often hidden in plain sight, a problem that inspired a unique new installation in downtown Vancouver.

Working with YWCA Metro Vancouver, Rethink commissioned Vancouver mural artist Ola Volo to create a 42-foot high installation called “The Wall for Women.”

Amateur photographers will naturally be drawn to the eye-catching mural on the side of the Hyatt Regency as they look for new material for their Instagram, but when they hold up their phone to take a picture, a series of hidden QR codes reveal statistics about the prevalence of domestic violence.

The six pop-ups, which include stats such as “1 in 3 women experience domestic violence” and “domestic violence is up 30 per cent,” direct people to a dedicated landing page containing information and resources, and asks for donations to support women experiencing violence.

Instances of domestic violence have spiked during the pandemic, amplified by both the social and economic impacts of the crisis and magnified by stay-at-home orders.

According to media reports last month, Canada’s Assaulted Women’s Helpline fielded 20,334 calls between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, up from 12,352 in the corresponding period a year earlier.

The escalation in domestic violence has been described by the government of Canada as a “shadow pandemic.”

“The Wall for Women is a powerful and important permanent installation,” said Amy Juschka, director of communications and advocacy with YWCA Metro Vancouver. “Domestic violence often remains hidden behind closed doors. We hope the mural raises awareness and funds for YWCA services that support women who have experienced abuse.”

Volo is a graduate of Emily Carr University of Art + Design whose work has been commissioned by brands including Starbucks, Louis Vuitton, Lululemon and Volkswagen. She started painting the mural on International Women’s Day.

“I have painted a lot of murals, but this was the first time integrating QR codes within my art,” said Volo. “I loved the challenge and the message is so powerful. I was honoured to help the YWCA bring the idea to life and to be able to directly help the cause with my work.”

It’s not the first time QR codes have been used to demonstrate the rise in domestic violence linked to the pandemic. Late last year, the German women’s rights organization introduced a campaign called “Unbreak,” which used QR codes to bring an image of a victim of domestic violence to life.

Chris Powell