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Art Anecdotes : Emma Sulkowicz and her Mattress

Through ART ANECDOTES, Art From Us brings you funny, heart-warming and sometimes heartbreaking stories that shape Artists and their work. Today we look at the story of “Emma Sulkowicz and her Mattress”.

Art From Us and Divvya Nirula bring to you a curated collection of Art related events, from suspected murder, to love affairs, to grand theft and curious cases of creation through ART ANECDOTES. Join us on this fun-filled ride of exploring and reliving these art-tales.

Genesis of the Work

Emma Sulkowicz was a student when she staged her famous Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014-15). So, what had inspired the performance piece? In 2013, Sulkowicz was in her 4th year studying visual arts at Columbia University. In April, she filed a complaint with campus authorities. Her complaint alleged that her fellow student Paul Nungesser had raped her in her dorm room. The incident had occurred the previous year. However, finding Nungesser not guilty, the university dismissed the case. Following this, Sulkowicz sought help from the New York Police Department. They too dismissed the case.

Consequently, Solkowicz took matters into her own hands. She decided to tell her story through her art. Thus was born this iconic performance piece. For it, the artist carried around a 50 pound dorm mattress everywhere she went. The mattress served as a reminder to all. Her alleged perpetrator as well as the university authorities.

Politics in Art : Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress

Unfortunately, Sulkowicz’s alleged perpetrator was never punished. This was despite complaints filed against him by 3 other women. Therefore, she carried her ‘burden’ to her graduation ceremony as well. While the artist’s courage was applauded by many, she was also ostracised by others. However, the piece did manage to spark a full fledged protest on and off the Columbia campus.

Emma Sulkowicz had once again brought to the forefront the politicisation of the female body. A theme that has been explored by artistic greats including Marina Abramovic and Carolee Schneemann.

To read more stories visit Art Anecdotes.

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