Students at the exclusively female Wellesley College are demanding the removal of a “potentially triggering” life-like statue of a man wearing only underwear that was recently installed at their pristine Massachusetts campus.
“Remove the uncomfortable and potentially triggering statue put up without student consent,” is the title of a Change.org petition posted by a Wellesley undergrad in response to artist Tony Matelli’s “Sleep Walker.”
Wellesley’s Davis Museum is housing Matelli’s “New Gravity” exhibit through July.
“While it appears that this statue of a nearly naked, older white man with outstretched arms is an art installation, it does not provide our community with any of the value that art is traditionally intended to add,” wrote student Zoe Magid in the Change.org petition.
The statue had “become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community,” reads Magid’s petition.
Davis Museum’s director defended the piece. “I love the idea of art escaping the museum and muddling the line between what we expect to be inside (art) and what we expect to be outside (life),” wrote Lisa Fischman in response to the Change.org petition.
“As the best art does, Tony Matelli’s work provokes dialogue, and discourse is at the core of education,” continued Fischman who also noted that some Wellesley students were taking “selfies” with the statue.
Others at the exclusive 2,400 student all-female private liberal arts institution are not buying any defense of the work.
“I go to a women’s college so that I’m part of an inclusive and supportive community, not one that supports male artists and statues of naked men instead of women,” wrote student Raeesah Kabir on the Davis Museum Facebook page.
“I think art’s intention is to confront, but not assault, and people can see this as assaulting,” Wellesley senior Annie Wang told the Boston Globe.
“Wellesley is a place where we’re supposed to feel safe. I think place and a context matters, and I don’t think this is the place to put it.”
Others defended the work. “I find it disturbing, but in a good way,” Wellesley English professor Sarah Wall-Randell told the Globe. “I think it’s meant to be off-putting – it’s a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment.”
Matelli described his artistic philosophy ahead of the controversy. “I’m fascinated with that moment when you become aware of a perceptual shift in your environment, so what was a seemingly real-life experience becomes a complicated art experience. That approach to art is really powerful.”
Matelli’s website shows another version of “Sleepwalker” created in 1998. The character for that statue is also a white man wearing underwear, but he is not bald.
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