Nearly naked, sleepwalking zombie sculpture triggers debate at Wellesley College

20140204-084035.jpgThe new sculpture of a sleepwalking guy in his tighty whiteys on Wellesley College’s campus is stirring debate and discussion, including in the form of a petition on the Change.org website.

The Tony Matelli sculpture, which ties in with an exhibit opening at the Davis Museum this week, has been described as creepy and “less than brilliant” by some, whereas others say they’d be fine with it if it was inside the museum rather than lurking on campus. Some said the sculpture reminded them a flasher who hit campus a handful of years back. (More Matelli sleepwalkers here)

The Change.org petition, launched by student Zoe Magid, is addressed to Wellesley College President Kim Bottomly and Davis Museum Director Lisa Fischman. It’s titled: Remove the uncomfortable and potentially triggering statue put up without student consent. The petition had about 30 supporters as of Tuesday AM but that had grown to about 250 by Wednesday AM.

Fischman responded to the student criticism here. She wrote that “As the best art does, Tony Matelli’s work provokes dialogue, and discourse is at the core of education. An open written forum went up in the student center this afternoon to consider some relevant questions, and I invite students to stop by and weigh in. We also welcome your responses online.”

Some students protested the sculpture by putting pajamas on him overnight, but the clothes had been removed by sunset. We saw a T-shirt draped on the sculpture Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, Wellesley students, alums and other observers are naturally turning to social media sites with their observations:

Pundits like Michael Graham have also started to weigh in, and publications like Boston Magazine and the Globe have followed up our initial reports.

The artist himself is slated to speak on Wednesday, Feb. 5 at the Davis at 5:30pm to celebrate the exhibit’s opening.

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20 Comments

  1. Joy
    Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Art is meant to start dialogue right? The problem is that it’s provoking fear. Fear kills discussion. I say put it back in the museum and let those who want to see it, see it. It’s quite beautiful, when you know it’s fake. However, many women who walk up on it don’t KNOW it’s fake and it causes them fear. Like it or not we live in a culture of sexual violence against women by men. It’s a fact, not fiction.

    I think the artist is wonderful but this is badly placed and stimulating fear, not healthy discussion.

  2. Scott Gallant
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Please, help Citizens Annoyed with Hypocrisy and Hypersensitivity and sign the petition to urge H. Kim Bottomly, President of Wellesley College, to dissuade her students from further hysteria and inconsistency.

    https://www.change.org/petitions/h-kim-bottomly-dissuade-petitioners-of-sleepwalker-statue-from-participating-in-future-slut-walks

    • MJ
      Posted February 24, 2014 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Scott Gallant, thank you for warning off any woman who wants to do business with you! It’s nice to know you use the word *sluts* to describe Wellesley College Women and even bothered to sign such an offensive petition. Yet, here it is, on the Internet forever, for all to see your misogyny in it’s neanderthal glory.

  3. Polly
    Posted February 16, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    Late one night, many years ago, an elderly man was wandering around in his pjs, calling out in distress in my Wellesley neighborhood. He had left his place of residence and was disoriented and afraid. Upon hearing him from inside my home, not knowing who he was or what was happening, I felt afraid, threatened and I called the police. After I learned what had happened, I realized that I had automatically interpreted what had been calls of distress from this man, as something menacing. As I reflected more on what I had heard that night, I could tell, in retrospect, that this man needed help. I had no way of knowing what his situation was, and did what most people would have done, but the experience made me pause. Of course, our biological response to a perceived threat is to protect ourselves, but when and how do we overcome that to help others? We saw amazing examples of people doing this during the marathon. Where is that line for each of us? Art can present us with the opportunity to ponder questions like this. The sleepwalker invites us to explore ourselves within the pause between the stimulus of his unsettling presence and our response to him. I am not sure how I would feel if my pause were filled with fear as I walked across campus each day trying to get to classes, but I do think that his presence can be an unsettling gift.

  4. GBSmith
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Art is normally used to flatter the culture, it has been turned into a debasement tool used by the left to bring about radical change. BTW – who paid for this?

  5. Pantagruel
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    This quality of art interpretation ought to embarrass such a prestigious institution. I would think that in 2014 that students at one of our best liberal arts schools would be able to understand that nudity (or in this instance, near nudity) is not always sexual. This is as ignorant as when John Ashcroft placed curtains around the Spirit of Justice to mask the breasts during press conferences. Also, protesting this statue on such flimsy grounds only serves to trivialize and hinder actual advocacy for victims; polluting the discussion with such ignorance does more harm than good.

    If you feel that art should make you feel emotionally secure and only at those times you wish to see it, a liberal arts college may not have been the best choice for you.

  6. Pam
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    Please, let me try and understand this. So, the sculpture was only placed on campus to provoke thought and discussion among the students? and will be there only temporarily as this
    was a succeeded goal by the Museum director Lisa Fischman? Please respond. Thanks

  7. Cat
    Posted February 6, 2014 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    On one hand, art is meant to provoke – and the statue is provocative. So The artist deserves credit.

    On the other hand, if a number of students find it disturbing – students who are paying large sums of money to attend Wellesley – it makes sense to put it in an art museum where those who want to see it can, and those who want not to see it can avoid it.

    This isn’t all about sexual trauma. The statue is creepy. If my local park put up artwork I found creepy – say, a sculpture of a child being pushed into a gas chamber at Auschwitz, or body parts dangling from trees – I would be irritates that a public space had been hijacked and was no longer enjoyable to me. Wouldn’t you?

    The artist did an admirable thing creating it; the school administrators did an interesting thing displaying it; the irritated students are doing a reasonable thing protesting it.

    • michael healy
      Posted February 6, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know if you read my previous post, but to save you the trouble I basically suggested that the artist asked us to consider the possibility that the subject was a victim rather than a perpetrator. If after taking that on board you still say it makes sense to put it in a museum, then with all due respect you really don’t get it. If you simply think my interpretation is wrong, then please submit one of your own.

      • Cat
        Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

        Of course – the sculpture ‘could be’ a man in any circumstance. In fact, it would be interesting have the artist make an exact relics except female instead of male – and then, I bet, it would strike many males and females as a woman lurching away from an assault.

        How does that change anything?

        I could make a realistic sculpture of a man in a ski mask with his hand in his pocket, pose him in an air

        • Cat
          Posted February 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          … In an airplane seat or a bank – and then when it causes an uproar say “well, why not consider that the man just has a cold face!”. The point is that people react to images based on experiences and on images they have seen before.

          I think it is sad that some of the best and brightest young people in our nation, at the tender age of eighteen, have already learned to connect ‘naked man in public’ with ‘predator’. That is the real story here.

  8. Michael Healy
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    So no one at Wellesley can conceive of the possibility that such a man might not be a sex maniac? Forgive me for asking, but somebody has to: are you really that dumb? A man in his skivvies, a sleepwalker e.g., somehow ends up on the Wellesley campus (or on your own yard for that matter) through no design of his own. Weirder things have happened. So what do you do? To judge from the responses of many the appropriate course of action is “Kick him in the balls and ask questions later!” To judge from those responses, in other words, Wellesley could do with some honest self-examination.
    Look, I get it: Many of you have been traumatized, and probably all of you know someone who has. I have no doubt that one of the lasting consequences of violence in general and sexual violence in particular is an abiding distrust of outsiders. But that’s nothing to celebrate, it’s something to overcome and yeah, that takes some courage. The point is: Wellesley doesn’t need to buy into the culture of brutalization, it needs to buy out of it. I could make a reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan, but that is presumably redundant here. Women of Wellesley, you are supposedly very intelligent. That is one stereotype I’m hoping still bears at least a grain of truth. Pray do not disappoint me.

  9. Jim
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    This probably seems innocuous to a lot of people (especially my fellow men) but consider that you’ve never been sexually threatened by a flasher or perv. I know several young women who have, and it was on campus, too. Being faced with the threat of imminent sexual assault is not pleasant, and reminding people of a traumatic experience for no reason is callous.

    So before you accuse people of being thin-skinned, or hating free speech, have a heart and consider that this statue may actually be giving people panic attacks!

  10. Fran
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    As someone with B.A. in English, I say “kudos” to the protesters.

    And as a lawyer, I’m not sure that is safe to place a lifelike sculpture of a naked figure at the side of a road; I would worry about creating a distraction for drivers.

  11. Matt
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    The people complaining about this statue are probably completely oblivious to the irony of the fact that they are attempting to stifle artistic expression free speech at a LIBERAL ARTS school… Granted, these rights aren’t guaranteed on a private campus… But this notion that an inanimate statue could be “harmful”, or a “trigger” to victims of sexual abuse is absurd and asinine, and I think it makes a mockery of people who have been sexually assaulted by, you know, a REAL person.

    Besides that… Why are these women so uncomfortable with a man in his underwear? Why do they automatically associate a man in his underwear with “sexual assault”? How can one not see that view as highly offensive and prejudiced? Why all the misplaced hatred for men? (I know… Stupid question, right?)

    For a ‘liberal arts’ school, these folks sure do seem to be a bunch of overly sensitive prudes with a lot of bottled up anger toward anything male. To these women I propose: Imagine if some man asked you to cover up your body… Imagine if a nude female statue was being protested as “too sexual”, and that a primarily male audience was demanding it’s removal for those reasons (You know, like in staunchly Muslim countries). Imagine what your outrage would be at such a proposition.

    Get over yourselves. You ladies sound like my grandma.

    • Pat
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      How are they trying to stifle free speech? Do you know what those words mean?

    • Fran
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      The people complaining about it are in fact exercising their free speech rights. The irony is the people complaining about the protesters “stifling” free speech.

  12. LV Rich
    Posted February 5, 2014 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    As a profesional artist, wife of an artist, with two daughters who also have BFAs, I must say shame, shame to the protesters. In an institution that exists to open hearts & minds to letter & arts how can a little discomfort, that is harmless, ever lead to the request to remove. Grow up people!!! And coodos to the artist on an amazing future!!

    • Anon
      Posted February 5, 2014 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Because panic attacks aren’t what I’d call ‘harmless’. They set this thing up in a place where many students cannot avoid seeing it every day.

      • Anon's mom
        Posted February 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

        LOL how do you get scared by the same thing everyday, tho?!

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