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What Are the Challenges for a Young Artist Riding a Wave of Early Success?


María María Acha-Kutscher, Emma Sulkowicz, Carry That Weight, 2014–15, part of "Indignadas (Outraged Women)."

Source: Artnet News

Is Emma Sulkowicz, the artist, here to stay?

In the aftermath of the release of Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol, the recent Columbia grad's controversial video art piece uploaded in June, she has become more famous than ever, but whether her current notoriety will lead to a long-term art career is an open question. Obviously, Camille Paglia doesn't think so. But we have more hope for the young art graduate.

This May marked the completion of Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), Sulkowicz's senior thesis piece, in which she carried a standard issue dormitory mattress around campus in protest of Columbia's handling of her rape claim. She vowed to continue the piece until her alleged rapist was expelled, or until she had completed her degree.

The work came to a dramatic end as she carried her bed across the stage as she graduated, and university president Lee Bollinger turned away from her, refusing to shake her hand.

Already, she was looking ahead to the release Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol, a video depicting Sulkowicz engaging in a violent and disturbing sexual encounter. "The internet is going to lose its shit, I think," she correctly predicted in an interview with New York magazine shortly before its release.

When the media first caught wind of Carry That Weight, Sulkowicz was placed at the forefront of the sexual assault awareness movement on campuses across the country. As New York magazine put it in their September issue, which featured Sulkowicz on the cover, her poster-girl status "is an accident of a viral world."

Rising to the unexpected occasion ("I had no idea it would get noticed by anyone when I first made it," she told artnet News), Sulkowicz continued her outspoken activism, attending the State of the Union as the guest of New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol seems a clear indication that her graduation day did not mark the end of her crusade.

Though Sulkowicz has made it quite clear that Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol is a separate work, the two pieces obviously mirror each other. However, it remains to be seen whether these two projects will serve as a springboard to a successful art career, or if she will become pigeonholed as the "Mattress Girl."

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