A written response – Emma Sulkowicz

In her work, Mattress performance (Carry That Weight) Emma Sulkowicz has committed herself to toting around a Colombia’s dorm mattress wherever she went on campus. She committed to do so until Columbia university expels the fellow student she alleged to rape her or he leaves on his own. Sulkowicz carried the mattress from September 2014 until May 2015 when both of them graduated. This art work counts as protest performance (endurance performance art).


In an interview with Sulkowicz, she explains why she chose to carry a mattress. It is possible to carry it and to still be able to continue with her day, but also heavy enough to be a burden. A mattress is usually covered and is part of our intimate space. The mattress Sulkowicz used was bared and she brought it to the public space. In that way she brought her story “into the light”.

Sulkowicz was subjected to the rules of engagement she wrote on her studio walls.

She is literally carrying the weight of what happened to her, in her bed, anywhere. By carrying the mattress not only she makes the rape visible to anyone but also makes it hard to ignore.
In her actions Sulkowicz drue a lot of attention, in addition to the usege of the physical public space she used the media public space. This case receive national media coverage and attract the attention of politicians and feminist leaders. By spreading her story and “Shaming” Paul Nungesser she changed her position from a victim to the dominant one.

It is not very clear to me what the artist was seeking to achieve in her work. On the one hand it seems as her way to increase the public awareness to sexual assaultment against women and the cultural problem of rape on campos. But, one the other hand it seems like a vendetta. The Defendant was found “not responsible” in 2013 by a university inquiry into the allegations and the police did not pursue criminal charges, citing lack of reasonable suspicion (see also his side of the story).

Sulkowicz’s work rises up some questions. For example, does by performaning that work she is taking the law into her hands? What bothers me the most is that the fact of Sulkowicz benefiting from this event evokes doute and antagonizem. It is against the ‘victim schema’ we know. Are all the rape victims should suffer and not benefit from their rape?

In addition, the work puts light on the enormous power the media has and the fact it is been used as the contemporary public execution’s stage.

Her work reminded me the following commercial for treatment for vaginal fungus:

Rape as Vaginal Fungal Infection is perceived as something to be ashamed on and they are both things that are needed to be treated – rape as a disease.



Emma Sulkowicz’s interview on “Carry That Weight” by Columbia Daily Spectator, September 2014.
Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) – Wikipedia.
Columbia Student: I Didn’t Rape Her, 2015.
Soraya Nadia McDonald (October 29, 2014). “It’s hard to ignore a woman toting a mattress everywhere she goes, which is why Emma Sulkowicz is still doing it
My Rapist Is Still on Campus’: Sex Assault in the Ivy League, 2014


Categories: Art Strategies

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