On Feb. 5 students at Wellesley College, just outside of Boston, were startled to see the figure of a half naked man, lost in the
snow. At first glance the man is middle aged, wearing nothing but white briefs, and has a small belly hanging over his waistband. His arms are stretch out causing him to appear like he’s grabbing for something or is confused. At first glance you cannot tell if he’s real or not, but after a couple minutes, one realizes that he’s definitely a sculpture.
The sculpture, called ‘Sleepwalker,’ is by Tony Matelli and is part of an exhibition, New Gravity, at the college’s Davis Museum. There is a partner sculpture to the male sleepwalker, but it is located indoors rather than in a public place on campus. The concept behind placing a hyper-realistic sculpture of a sleepwalking man outside was meant to raise questions of vulnerability. A man is in a state, naked, and out in the cold. If he were a real person ,he would clearly be in need of help.
This, however, was not the reaction of many Wellesley community members. The instillation of the sculpture has caused a huge uproar by the student body. The argument from students is that the presence of the male sculpture can be triggering to students who have histories with sexual abuse, especially at night. Another argument is that it is inappropriate to have a nude male presence at an all female college, especially when the location of the sculpture, next to the main road and near the residence halls, makes viewing it unavoidable.
In the past week since the sculpture has been up, students have signed a petition demanding that it be taken down immediately. The curator, administration, and artists have thus far decided to keep the statue in place, stating that the intention of the work was not to trigger memories of sexual assault nor is the sculpture meant to be threatening.
Likewise, the administration argued that if anyone is truly disturbed by the figure they should seek counseling or some type of help.
I think the question of whether or not to keep the statue out doors or not should be discussed. The sculpture was initially put in the public sphere to raise questions and elicit a response. Though the reaction has not been what was expected, the art has created a conversation. The question that remains is what to do now.
Personally, I think it should remain where it is currently exhibited.