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Date of Award

Spring 5-2021

Author's School

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts

Author Department/Program

Graduate School of Art

Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Visual Art

Degree Type

Thesis

Abstract

This text explores the capacity for shamed bodily materiality to narrate the complexity of healing from sexual trauma while rape culture persists. Because rape is discussed so little in public, sexual healing often takes place under a meaty layer of shame, placed on the survivor’s body. Their truth is frequently interpreted as too much/gross/ugly/unspeakable for the public, and it is simultaneously not enough to be discussed/accepted/pursued as an actual issue. This uncomfortable teeter-totter comes from the patriarchal boundaries drawn between what is privately or publicly acceptable. There are plenty of depictions of sexual violence in popular culture and the canon of art hstory, but we rarely see examples of sexual healing. unmentionables is a heartfelt, raw, and painfully true compilation of my own endeavors to understand these implications as a survivor. Much of my references come from survivors who put words to what I felt was only expressible through sculpture. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s research on post-traumatic stress disorder, Julia Kristeva’s writings on the abject, and the phallocentric taboos placed on the vulva collectively provide context for why this is so. Social norms effectively shame what is beneath our skin, what we would rather not look at it but still know is there. This relates uncomfortably to subject of rape because of how the survivor is forced to carry the weight of the traumatic event, socially and physically. Thus the wet, goopy materiality of internal anatomy forms the skin of my sculptures as they embody the sensation of wearing shame. Inspired by Simone de Beauvoir’s writing on the body as dynamic, instead of passive, my sculptures blur the line between interior and exterior, and between private and public. This renders the survivor’s truth material and impossible to ignore.

Content warning: sexual assault

Language

English (en)

Program Director

Lisa Bulawsky

Program Director's Department

Graduate School of Art

Thesis Advisor

Monika Weiss

Studio/Primary Advisor

Arny Nadler

Studio/Primary Advisor

Richard Krueger

Committee Member

Heather Bennett

Committee Member

Dr. Elizabeth Childs

Artist's Statement

Abject in their presence as materially goopy art objects in the white cube, my sculptures cross the boundary from private into public spaces. They express how trauma occupies the body of the rape survivor, and how this expression is seen as a taboo. My sculptures lean to the side, painfully swell from within a bed frame and ooze out from within that very bedpost in deflowered (2021). Both in spite of and because of their fragmented states, they are approachable because you know they are not real. I aim to avoid any possibility for total revulsion on behalf of viewers, so the petite stature of my sculptures is critical. Their visibly wet surfaces, genital shapes and uncanny sameness to your skin make them feel real enough for you to have the desire to approach them, inspired by Heide Hatry’s meat flowers. And yet, their alienness and state of being so inhuman makes it feel permissable to remain with them because they are just sculptures. snagged (2020) drags itself through a puddle of sticky latex and ultimately rears itself up at you in the shape of a threatening tongue. This entity invades your personal space and generates a visceral body-to-body sensation that cannot be ignored.

Our bodies record marks made against them, tangible or psychological. Your stomach contorts when you see food that made you ill the last time you ate it. As a survivor of rape, my skin breaks out in hives when I have a traumatic flashback. Materials also record our interactions with them. As an artist, my forms thus emerge from massaging, wrapping, stretching, spreading, tearing, ripping and repairing used bedsheets and my worn lace undergarments. This intimately and violently creates holes, stains and seams. I pigment liquid latex with gouache to replicate the vibrant gooey seepage we all have within our bodies. I meticulously coat textiles with layers of this latex until it thickens into peachy, irritated skin with hives, ingrown hairs, and acne scars. I bind metal wire into armatures that become my sculptures’ bones. I wrap them with this artificial flesh and then stuff them until they become fragments of voluptuous bodies wearing shame.

Viscerally merging into bedroom furniture, folding into myself (2021) demonstrates the craving for self-compassion in a space tainted by rape. I cohabitate with my sculptures in a variety of ways. I do so literally because they often consume parts of my own bedroom furniture, like too much, not enough (2021). This is also metaphorical because healing from rape is like cohabitating with an invasive species in your bedroom. It feels alien. But you must heal here because the public does not acknowledge or accept your pain. No, they shame it. Pain manifests in ways we can name, like anxiety giving you diarrhea. But what if it is unnameable, not permissible to be named? Rape ends, but the trauma stays, and rape culture persists. The prevelance of rape culture makes it an issue of contemporary art, whether it is talked about or not. Given its taboo status, it is still not discussed enough. This silencing is stifling, forcing skin to crack and crease from the pressure. This truth cannot be kept silent; it is waiting to emerge like a snake in the bushes, tired of hiding and being patient. It is ready to be seen.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 10, 2022

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