What's this? This is an unbiased just-the-facts news timeline ('newsline') about Emma Sulkowicz, created by Newslines' contributors. Help us grow it by finding and summarising news. Learn more

Emma Sulkowicz

Emma Sulkowicz63 posts

Emma Sulkowicz is an American arts student, born in New York in 1992, who gained media attention for carrying a mattress around campus to highlight what she saw as Columbia University’s lack of action to remove her alleged rapist from the campus.

19 Jan, 2017

Daily Beast interview

Art ExhibitionInterview

Sulkowicz is interviewed about her performance art piece, The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center, where she will take on the role of a doctor, seeing ‘patients’ for 30-minute appointments from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two weeks at the Philadelphia Contemporary gallery.

If the thesis of this project is that art heals in ways that medicine can’t, I’m trying to figure out what that means. I want this to be a space where people can safely explore their emotions—that’s what I think a ‘safe space’ is—and figure out what they need from art, not just as an intellectual journey but to really feel why art is important to them…It sounds corny, but if my goal with art is to actually change the world for the better, I think performance art is going to be the most effective tool for that.

On Nungesser:

Yes [I resent him], because people accused me of launching a bullying campaign against him. But no one knew his name until he put it out there…I’m doing other things now, but he still has a pending lawsuit. What’s he doing with his life? It’s crazy to me.

On whether she wishes she could escape the notoriety of her mattress performance:

Absolutely. It’s really depressing to not be anonymous. It’s an ongoing conflict because on the one hand, I’m happy that the movement needed someone to step up and be the face of it and humbled to have been chosen, but the sacrifices I’ve had to make for that have been really stressful. I’ve lost friends. It was a very tumultuous year and I was very depressed.

23 Feb, 2016

LAist interview

Interview

Sulkowicz talks about her upcoming show in LA’s Chinatown. On the creation of multiple 3D figure of her image:

The idea is that I’ve been so widely publicized in the media, which was completely unexpected and unprecedented for me. I’ve seen my image become so mass-produced. Now, if anyone wants to mention anything about campus rape, they’ll invoke my name even if I’m only marginally related to what they’re talking about. My image has sort of become this currency that you use if you want to talk about anything related to these topics.

On her appearance with Emmatron, her life-size robot that answers question on her behalf:

I’ll be there during gallery hours every day that it’s open, and I’ll just be doing my thing. You can come talk with me. You can ask me whatever you want. [Emmatron] is a separation between me as a human being versus this sort of way that people can treat me as if I’m a robot when they ask me very repetitive, insensitive questions…The truth is that I was never able to cope [with Internet harassment]. It’s not like any amount of support was going to cancel out that people were Facebook messaging me to kill myself…It’s been fun to record these questions for Emmatron, and I think that she’ll be fun to play with, if you know what I mean. She’ll have fun things to say. Hopefully, the end result is lively and entertaining, but I’m also trying to drive home a serious point.

10 Dec, 2015

Newsweek article

Magazine Cover

Newsweek publishes a cover feature, The Other Side of The Sexual Assault Crisis, that includes an interview with Nungesser and his parents. His father on the graduation day:

I wondered…What would they do if they knew we were the parents of the guy Emma accused? What would they do? Would they spit in front of us?

Mother:

I would have liked to go to every single parent in that audience and say, ‘I am the mother of Paul, and I am very proud of my son, and I hope you discuss with your sons and daughters what they did to him.’

Nungesser:

My faith in justice has been so fundamentally shaken, that I’m hoping by going forth and putting this into a court of law there’s going to be someone who says this behavior that occurred here was [an] injustice. What happened to me…could happen to any other college male. Institutions are capable of intense cruelty without even realizing what they’re doing.

13 Nov, 2015

Sulkowicz praises LeBeouf

Makes Statement

Sulkowicz praises LeBeouf’s #ALLMYMOVIES performance work.

[It’s] a participatory art piece, a relational aesthetics art piece. It’s not just a stunt. I think there are things to think about in the piece…It’s the most egotistical thing on Earth. Yet, at the same time, because of the endurance quality of it where he has to sit there and suffer through himself, suffer through watching himself, it’s humble and inclusive. Like, ‘I will suffer through this with you guys, if you want.’

28 Jul, 2015

‘I would give her a D’

Makes Statement

In her Salon interview, Paglia criticizes Sulkowicz:

I’d give her a D!  I call it “mattress feminism.” Perpetually lugging around your bad memories–never evolving or moving on!  It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance-oriented feminism. I called my feminism “Amazon feminism” or “street-smart feminism,” where you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make. If something bad happens, you learn from it.  You become stronger and move on. But hauling a mattress around on campus? Columbia, one of the great Ivy League schools with a tremendous history of scholarship, utterly disgraced itself in how it handled that case. It enabled this protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever.  This isn’t feminism–which should empower women, not cripple them.

26 Jun, 2015

Pre-trial summary letter

Makes Statement

Both sides submit a letter (text) to the court summarizing the arguments they plan to raise in advance of a July 1 pre-trial hearing. Nungessers lawyer’s expand on their original claims, saying  that despite Nuingesser being cleared by the University, Columbia did not curtail Sulkowicz’s activities, and actually honored her:

Emma’s time and indeed her academic work at Columbia has largely been defined by her part in the gender based anti-male discriminatory harassment campaign against Plaintiff Nungesser[;] these honors constitute yet another instant of Defendant Columbia directly rewarding, encouraging and celebrating Emma Sulkowicz’s role in the gender based discriminatory harassment.

They also say Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to display pornographic material that had Nungesser’s name attached to it in an art exhibition, and allowed Sulkowicz to carry the mattress to her (and Nungesser’s) graduation:

At the graduation ceremony, Emma Sulkowicz was given a special university privilege contrary to the rules by Defendant Columbia to carry the mattress to her and Plaintiff Nungesser’s graduation in another instance of Defendant Columbia perpetrated gender based discriminatory harassment of Plaintiff Nungesser

They also claim that Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to:

 build a public persona surrounding her false allegations, which has led to the posting of videos and other proposed performances depicting Plaintiff Nungesser as a rapist.

Columbia’s attorneys do not rebut any of Nungesser’s claims, and while the school acknowledges that Sulkowicz’s campus activism made her a major figure in the sexual assault debate, it claims she was an independent third-party actor, and the school cannot be held responsible or liable for her conduct. The letter concludes by saying both sides are open to a pre-trial settlement.

5 Jun, 2015

Artnet Interview

Interview

Sulkowicz talks about her sex tape project to the art site.

Question: One of the things that really struck me about the text accompanying the video is when you write “You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable…I want to change the world.” Is it that thinking that made you want to become an artist?

I don’t know that it’s why I want to be an artist, but it’s why I’m forced to be an artist. It’s more that being an artist is the only way I know how.

Question: Do you think that making yourself vulnerable is what it takes to change the world these days?

Yes

Question: Are you concerned at all about being stigmatized or pigeon-holed byMattress Performance?

Yeah, I mean, when people call me “Mattress Girl” I find that really infuriating. It’s like, okay great, so you think that I’ll never progress beyond that point. That I’ll be a “Mattress Girl” rather than a living, breathing person who has the ability to change.

4 Jun, 2015

Sex tape art project

Makes Statement

Emma Sulkowicz sex tape video imageSulkowicz releases a website and video entitled, Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (link). The eight-minute video, which is dated August 27, 2012 (the same day as her alleged rape) features Sulkowicz’s and an unidentified  man, whose face is blurred, engaging in what appears to be consensual sex that turns violent. The man open-palm slaps Sulkowicz, chokes her, removes the condom, then continues to have rough sex with Sulkowicz, who whimpers and protests from pain.

Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is not about one night in August, 2012. It’s about your decisions, starting now. It’s only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It’s about you, not him. Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable. You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable. Look—I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape. Please, don’t participate in my rape. Watch kindly.

28 May, 2015

Lays down mattress

Interview

After nine months Sulkowicz completes her performance art project, laying the mattress to rest in her parents living room, with the intent to later sell the art piece to a museum. With Nungesser and herself having both graduated, she says that she has no further use for the mattress.

I’m not going to just throw it away. It tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. People think I was supposed to have this warlike relationship with it and it was supposed to be this object that I was angry with, but for me, that related to how people chose to read my piece rather than the way I lived with it … I have a scenario planned for the exhibition of my piece…If some sort of museum wants to buy it, then I’m open to that. But I’m not going to just throw it away.

Sulkowicz’s ideal scenario for exhibiting the piece includes the mattress, the collection of plastic bed-wetting sheets that protected it in the rain, instructions to re-create the “Rules of Engagement” she had painted on her studio wall, and a 59,000 word diary that tracked her experiences.

It [the diary] tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. It’s the real record of the piece…To me, the piece has very much represented [the fact that] a guy did a horrible thing to me and I tried to make something beautiful out of it…I’ve had the most crazy two years of my life, so I’m ready to go incognito and try to make a life where not everyone is recognizing me. Maybe I’ll change my hair color.

20 May, 2015

Nungesser parents criticize ‘public witch-hunt’

Makes Statement

Nungesser’s parents make a statement about their son’s graduation.

Our son’s graduation should have been a joyous moment for our whole family. We are extremely proud of Paul for graduating, even more so because of the harassment campaign he was subjected to. For over two years, he had to fight false accusations and a public witch-hunt, even though Columbia and the NYPD exonerated him. At graduation, Columbia University again broke its own rules and afforded Emma Sulkowicz a special exception. It was the second devastating experience in just a few days: Last week, Columbia exhibited Emma Sulkowicz’s highly disturbing and extremely graphic drawings of our son publicly on campus…A university that bows to a public witch-hunt no longer deserves to be called a place of enlightenment, of intellectual and academic freedom. By failing to intervene in this injustice, Columbia ceases to be a place where critical thinking, courage and democratic practice are taught, learned and lived.

6 Feb, 2015

Rebuts Facebook messages

Makes Statement

Jezebel posts Sulkowicz’s rebuttal to the Facebook messages provided by Nungesser. Sulkowicz:

It is extremely upsetting that Paul would violate me again—this time, with the help of a reporter, Cathy Young. I just wanted to fix the problem of sexual assault on campus—I never wanted this to be an excuse for people to dig through my private Facebook messages and frame them in a way as to cast doubt on my character. It’s unfair and disgusting that Paul and Cathy would treat personal life as a mine that they can dig through and harvest for publicity and Paul’s public image.

This is why I have chosen to release the full conversation, plus the context in which things were said. I want people to have all the information so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, rather than seeing a redacted version of the conversation with bits and pieces picked out to make me look a certain way.

If I had a choice, no one would see my private Facebook messages at all. However, Paul and Cathy have put me in a position where I either do nothing, and they publish the conversation, or I take the lead and publish it on my own. It’s the only thing I can do to maintain a modicum of control over my private life, which becomes more public by the second, thanks to reporters who don’t treat me with respect.

5 Feb, 2015

Nungesser denies raping Sulkowicz

Makes Statement

In a feature story on The Daily Beast, Nungesser says he did not rape Sulkowicz. According to Sulkowicz, after starting consensual sex (their third sexual encounter), Nungesser suddenly and brutally assaulted her, then picked up his clothes and left without a word, leaving her stunned and shattered on the bed. However, according to Nungesser, they briefly engaged in anal intercourse by mutual agreement, then went on to engage in other sexual activity and fell asleep. He says that he woke up early in the morning and went back to his own room while Sulkowicz was still sleeping. Nungesser says that for weeks after that night, he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial relationship, and says she seemingly never indicated that anything was amiss. He then describes a series of friendly texts made by Sulkowicz after the alleged incident (these are documented here, and have been included in the newsline at the appropriate points).

21 Jan, 2015

‘Let Down’ by SOTU Speech

Makes Statement

Sulkowicz says she was disappointed the president did not mention sexual assault on college campuses in his State of the Union speech.

I can’t say I was entirely surprised because since when has violence against women ever been a man’s issue? “I am not going to lie, I was let down because I felt like there were points in his speech where he could have brought it up. I was really hoping he would mention it, since the issue has been raised to a new level.

Just seeing the president in person was such a wild experience. And shaking John Kerry’s hand was also extremely surreal. He didn’t really know who I was, and even when Senator Gillibrand introduced me no one seemed to know who I was. But that’s okay.

30 Oct, 2014

Columbia mattress protest

Makes Statement

carry-weightHundreds of students carry 28 mattresses and leave them at the door of Bollinger’s home, in a  protest organized by No Red Tape, an anti-rape campus group whose members wear red X’s and stickers urging passers by to “Imagine a world without rape”. The mattresses bear slogans like “NO MORE” and “CARRY THAT WEIGHT”. Students:

The administration isn’t really paying attention to what’s important. They’re dancing around the issue, saying it’s not really Columbia’s problem but society in general’s. Though they’re the people who are not expelling the rapists.

As a trans man, I feel sometimes that … I need to be involved in the male part of it. The entire reason that assault happens is because of the attacker, not the victim.

3 Oct, 2014

Parents criticize Columbia lack of action

Makes Statement

Sulkowicz’s parents make a statement, supporting their daughter and criticizing what they see as Columbia’s lack of action:

If Columbia remains passive in the face of Emma’s suffering, and does not attempt to rectify the injustice done to her, survivors at Columbia will feel discouraged from entrusting themselves to the system that Columbia has recently worked so hard at putting into place.

Emma’s performance piece, “Carry That Weight,” has galvanized forces around the world for gender equality, sexual assault policy reform, and empowerment of the disenfranchised, and has received praise from the art world. Needless to say, we are proud…However, as Emma’s parents, we do not want her recent celebrity to be a distraction from the fact that the University’s failure to place sanctions on the man she reported for rape, Jean-Paul Nungesser, CC ’15,  is a cause of her continued suffering. The investigation, hearing, and appeals process that followed her complaint to the University were painfully mishandled. We feel that they violated standards of impartiality, fairness, and serious attention to the facts of the case.

If Columbia does not act to expel him before then, their graduation will not relieve Columbia of the burden of this episode. Instead, in this important moment in the history of sexual assault on college campuses, Columbia will remain indelibly in the public mind as the university where good men and women did nothing.

4 Sep, 2014

The Cut interview

Interview

Sulkowicz is interviewed in New York magazine’s The Cut section. She talks about the mattress project, her alleged rape, and the reaction so far:

Physically, I’m really sore. The reporter response has been really aggressive and not what I expected. It is a sensitive subject, and I can’t be accosted in the middle of campus to talk about it. One guy, while I was carrying the mattress, he just opened up my backpack and threw his business card in, which was a real violation of my space and made me really upset and triggered a lot of memories of being raped.

On the student response:

So far students I have never met before have helped me carry it. As I was walking across campus last night I heard someone shout, “Go, Emma!” and I’ve gotten such an overwhelming positive response on the internet. One girl seems to be organizing some sort of website that will allow students to organize and figure out how to help me carry it to all my classes.

On the perception of the protest:

In the news, people have been calling my piece a protest, and just ignoring the fact it is not really a protest but a performance-art piece. Yes, I would like for my rapist to get kicked out of school, but I realize that the university is so stubborn that it may never happen and I may be carrying this mattress for a while.

She also claims to have dropped the police action:

It got transferred to the district attorney’s office, and I decided I didn’t want to pursue it any further because they told it me it would take nine months to a year to actually go to court, which would be after I graduated and probably wanting to erase all of my memories of Columbia from my brain anyway, so I decided not to pursue it.

2 Sep, 2014

Starts carrying mattress

Makes Statement

After seeking guidance from visual arts professor Kessler over the summer, Sulkowicz starts carrying her mattress wherever she goes on Campus.

Rape can happen anywhere. I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that’s become fraught for me. And I feel like I carry the weight of what happened there with me everywhere…For my senior thesis I will be doing a piece called ‘Mattress Performance’ or “Carry that Weight’ where I will be carrying this dorm room mattress everywhere I go for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.

Kessler:

Carrying around your university bed—which was also the site of your rape—is an amazingly significant and poignant and powerful symbol. I felt I had something to offer in terms of how artists have done endurance performance pieces in the past, and the connection between activism and performance…The best art comes from a very personal place and from personal commitment and belief—otherwise you’re just doing an assignment…As a physical metaphor, the piece has tremendous power.

13 May, 2014

‘Sexual assault violators’ graffitti

Makes Statement

hamilton_bathroom1-260x346A list of “sexual assault violators” is written on the walls of various womens’ bathrooms on the Columbia campus. While the names are redacted in the reports, it is believed that Nungesser’s name is one of those mentioned. The messages are repeated over several days, titled “Rapists on Campus.” All names are written in the same style this time, suggesting a single author, and include the names of a big campus DJ, an athlete training for the Olympics, and a male student who worked at the Bwog, a campus news blog. Sulkowicz says she does not know who was behind the graffiti, but that the list includes the name of the man who had assaulted her.

I think that it’s important for people to know the names, because it’s a matter of safety

And also comments a few days later:

The fact that the University sends Public Safety to tape down the bathrooms—I think that’s a stifling of sorts. For other graffiti they wouldn’t tape the bathroom down. If it were a drawing of a smiley face, they wouldn’t do that.

What's this? This is an unbiased just-the-facts news timeline ('newsline') about Emma Sulkowicz, created by Newslines' contributors. Help us grow it by finding and summarising news. Learn more