5 Important Aesthetic Statements on Rape

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed on the first day of her Sophomore year. College administrators, police, and even friends failed to believe her story and bring her rapist to justice, so along with 22 other students, she’s bringing a Federal Title IX complaint against the school. As a visual reminder to everyone who crosses her path, the visual arts major has decided to carry around a twin-size dorm mattress wherever she goes on campus as long as her rapist is allowed to remain at Columbia.

Sulkowicz’s aesthetic activism is crucial to her visibility as a rape survivor and the visibility of survivors everywhere. She joins an important line of performance artists who create works about rape. These 4 other pieces are particularly memorable.

Suzanne Lacy. Three Weeks in May, 1977.

Lacy staged a large-scale performance on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, which featured more than 30 events over the course of three weeks, including self-defense classes and the locations of recent rapes plotted across a local map.

Ana Mendieta. Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973.

In response to a brutal rape and murder of a nursing student, Mendieta performed a piece in her Iowa City apartment, recreating the crime scene with her blood-covered body. (A highly triggering image of the work can be found here)

Nan Goldin. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, 1986.

New York City photographer Nan Goldin depicts addicts, artists, and couples on the verge of violence in her famed photographic series.

Go! Push Pops and Megan Welch. 500,000, 2013.

Queer, transnational radical feminist art collective Go! Push Pops joined Megan Welch in this performance piece highlighting inter-military rape in the United States.

Cover image from Suzanne Lacy’s 3 Weeks in May