Beat. – the art project showing how to counter domestic violence without fear

The names of 23 women killed by their partners or family member were projected on the façade of the National Assembly building in Sofia
Photo: Yana Lozeva

The video project Beat. by the Fine Acts foundation has been watched by more than 120,000 users in the space of just one year after being posted on different online platforms. What the authors of this intriguing social experiment are after is to raise the curtain on domestic violence, something women are still afraid to open up about.

The idea for the project came about as disquieting European statistics were made public – that one in four women in Bulgaria experience domestic violence in one form or another. But the Fine Acts team does not focus on the deep psychological and emotional trauma they suffer, they have chosen to probe into the injurious silence surrounding domestic violence. The interactive Beat. is a provocation to a society like ours which tends to react to any loud domestic noise, as long as it is not the sound of a quarrel, or worse –  of someone being beaten in their home.

“Our video is educational in that it shows what role we, as a civil society, can assume,” explains Maksim Stoimenov, Director of communications at Fine Acts. “We are not out to impute guilt, we do not want the laws changed though many believe that is imperative. But there are steps we, as citizens, can take and they will not place us in any danger. People often say the police are doing nothing; that we have to try and solve the problem ourselves. Our video shows a place where something horrible happened – we shot it in the apartment building where one of the many women in Bulgaria was murdered. We rented an apartment and, without warning the neighbours, we decided to see how quickly they would react if we played the drums. We, Bulgarians, are used to hearing our neighbours remodelling their apartment on weekends and the noise annoys us. But if we hear family quarrels we tend to look the other way. That was why our idea was in this apartment, playing the drums, a noise that is not typically domestic, to see how the neighbours would react. To the drums they reacted instantaneously. Compared to the 50 minutes the murder took, a time when there was shouting and screaming, it took the neighbours under 2 minutes to react to the drums. If they had reacted in the same way to the domestic violence, the outcome might not have been fatal. Psychologists have an explanation – the act of violence as such is entirely emotional, not rational. When it is a relationship between two people emotions run really high. And if at that precise moment a neighbour were to ring the doorbell to ask for something, salt or vinegar for example, that diffuses the aggression and tones down the emotion. It is important that more people know this, so they can help.”

Maksim Stoimenov, who is also a musician, a drummer, also takes part in the video. As he says it has such a profound effect on the audience because it is a real social experiment, no part of it has been staged.

“Statistics have been discussed in the media for quite some time, yet nothing has changed. Domestic violence has even been spreading, and for some of the victims it is fatal. It was fatal for the woman in Sofia our video is about. When there is, so obviously, a problem in the way women are treated in public and in private, we have to try and get to the root of the problem so no more lives will be lost, with this trauma being transferred to the children as well. According to statistics women suffer violence not at the hands of a stranger, but of a family member.”

The Beat. idea was developed a year ago by a team with director Eddy Schwartz. “It is the result of the work of professionals who believe in this cause and who want this problem, which weighs heavy on our society, to be solved somehow,” Maksim Stoimenov says.

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