Emma Sulkowicz, who contributed to a national conversation about rape on college campuses with a piece of performance art, brought her trademark mattress to the graduation ceremony at New York’s Columbia University today, despite an e-mailed ban on large objects.
Sulkowicz has garnered widespread attention since September 2014 for her senior thesis project, Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight. She began the performance after the university refused to expel a classmate whom she accuses of raping her, vowing to carry a twin mattress, of the sort on which assault the allegedly took place, everywhere she went on campus until he left the school or graduated (see Columbia Student’s Performance Art Catalyzes a Full-Fledged Protest Movement, Columbia Student’s Striking Mattress Performance).
Today, she was spotted hauling the mattress to her graduation ceremony, with the help of other students. Images of Sulkowicz and her classmates, wearing blue cap and gown, have appeared on social media.
Sulkowicz had as much as promised to bring the mattress to graduation at a conversation with New York Times art critic Roberta Smith at the Brooklyn Museum in December. When asked how the project might conclude, she speculated about dropping the mattress at the feet of Columbia president Lee Bollinger at graduation, to rousing applause.
“I guess that’s what I have to do now,” Sulkowicz said.
Her alleged assailant, Paul Nungesser, is currently suing Columbia, accusing the university of allowing Sulkowicz to harass and defame him (see Alleged Rapist Sues Columbia and Artist for Discrimination Over Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance). Nungesser was also in attendance at the ceremony, according to an image tweeted by Teo Armus, the deputy news editor at the Columbia Spectator.
Sulkowicz appeared sans mattress at the State of the Union address earlier this year as a guest of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) (see Mattress Artist Emma Sulkowicz to Attend State of the Union), but chose to bring it to graduation, despite an administration email to the class of 2015 urging against bringing large objects.
“Graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people,” read the email, which was reportedly not sent to previous graduating classes.
According to Armus, who was tweeting from the event, four students aided Sulkowicz in carrying the mattress across the stage. Bollinger, who shook the hands of other graduates as they crossed the stage, reportedly turned away from Sulkowicz, who attempted to lean over the mattress and catch his eye. She then kept walking, shrugging with her free hand.
“I even tried to smile at him or look him in the eye, and he completely turned away,” she told the New York Times. “So that was surprising, because I thought he was supposed to shake all of our hands.”
Several sources have noted that she received “lots of applause” from the crowd.
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