Survey of Arts Management

Course blog for American University PERF-570, Fall 2014

Performance Art and Sexual Assault on Campus

Over the past few days I have seen this article circulated on Facebook by several friends. Emma Sulkowicz is a senior at Columbia University majoring in visual arts and has taken her thesis to a new level. As the article states, Emma is one of many students currently involved in legal battles with the university over the handling of sexual assault cases. For her thesis, Emma has chosen to create a performance art piece that is a reflection of how she feels every day as a survivor of sexual assault who still encounters her rapist on a regular basis. Pieces like Emma’s are heartbreaking, but also fascinating as an artist and arts manager. Her work is controversial, emotional, cathartic, and bold. Her work is fascinating to someone like me, but could be extremely dangerous to Columbia University. By remaining visible as she carries her mattress, she is allowing for discussion of her work and the sexual assault statistics that she is a part of. Her work is pushing for responses to an important issue that universities across the country have for too long refused to acknowledge. 

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2 comments on “Performance Art and Sexual Assault on Campus

  1. benjamendouglas
    September 3, 2014

    WOW. Yes, very powerful. Thought-provoking, too.

    So many questions… First, and foremost, what a horrible thing to have happen, and then to not receive support from the college is beyond awful.

    But – since we’re about the arts, I’ll leave the activism part on the side. I do wonder, as a visual artist, how is she using this as her thesis? If this were her protest, I get it. But where’s the line between protest and art? Were the Greensboro sit-ins performance art? What about the Ferguson protests? These people were marching to bring attention to an injustice in much the same way. I know many artists would love to get the attention that her performance has gotten, but the media involvement also seems like a factor in the line between protest and performance.

    I’m sure there’s more to the performance, but I’m just curious about the merits of the artistic excellence – which I assume she and her professor have clearly defined.

  2. amyjoforeman
    September 3, 2014

    What an interesting way to bring attention to such an uncomfortable subject – an issue that is unfortunately far too common on college campuses.

    I love that she refers to it in her video as an “endurance performance art piece.” The concept is relatively simple, the difficult nature weighs quite literally on her shoulders.

    Benjamen brings up a really interesting point – what is the difference between performance and protest? Emma has found a balance of both. It’s obviously a peaceful protest, but I think there is a lot of room for the “performance” aspect to develop. This could go on until graduation. I’d love to see the mattress decorated in some way to depict the stories of the other 22 students involved in the federal Title IX complaint filed against Columbia.

    Good luck, Emma!

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