National Organization for Women Gives Emma Sulkowicz ‘Courage’ Award

NOW celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.
Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Artist Emma Sulkowicz received the 2016 Woman of Courage award by the National Organization for Women (NOW) at its annual conference on June  24.

NOW, which is dedicated to achieving equality for women, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. “Sulkowicz did what many rape victims cannot do; she channeled her fear into a public demonstration and brought attention to her rapist’s despicable act and highly inadequate punishment,” wrote NOW president Terry O’Neill in an email to artnet News. “Emma is an inspiration to all of us.”

The artist, who graduated from Columbia University in 2015, attracted national attention for her thesis project, Carry That Weight, in which she spent her senior year carrying a mattress around campus in protest of how the school handled her rape allegations against a fellow student.

Emma Sulkowicz with the National Organization for Women's Woman of Courage Award. Courtesy of Emma Sulkowicz.

Emma Sulkowicz with the National Organization for Women’s Woman of Courage Award. Courtesy of Emma Sulkowicz.

Her controversial follow-up video, Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (“This Is Not a Rape”), showed Sulkowicz engaged a violent sexual encounter in a Columbia dorm. In February, Sulkowicz had her first solo exhibition at Los Angeles’s Coagula Curatorial, a durational performance in which visitors were invited to ask her anything. Depending on the nature of the question, either the artist or her avatar would respond.

“I never imagined that someday I would be honored by such an immensely important organization,” said Sulkowicz of the honor in an email to artnet News. “It feels like a dream.”

“It’s truly humbling,” said Sulkowicz. “People should check out NOW’s amazing history, because we really do owe so many of our rights to that organization.”

Sulkowicz also posted a photograph of herself with the award on Instagram, along with this quote from her acceptance speech:

Camille Paglia has publicly called my artwork a “masochistic exercise” in which I neither “evolve” nor “move-on.” She speaks as if she, a white woman, knew what was best for me, a woman of color she’s never met.

Many people ask me how I’ve “healed” from my assault, as if healing were another word for “forgetting about it,” “getting over it,” or even “shutting up about it.” To expect me to move on is to equate courage with self-censorship. The phrases—suck it up, move on, and get over it—are violence. People who say these phrases equate what is right with what is expected.

I think courage means, “Afraid in a way that makes you do what is right, even if it’s unexpected.”

I dedicate this award to everyone who has not told me to get over it. Thank you for validating my fear and my way of handling it. Thank you for creating a world in which we can tackle the things that terrify us by doing the unexpected right thing.


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