Emma Sulkowicz's Mattress Performance

Emma Sulkowicz's Mattress Performance

Updated Mar 23, 2017 at 12:41AM EDT by Don.

Added May 20, 2015 at 05:57PM EDT by Don.

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Emma Sulkowicz's Mattress Performance refers to a performance art project by Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz titled "Carry That Weight," in which she carried a dark-blue mattress around her college campus to urge her university to expel her alleged rapist Paul Nungesser, who had previously been cleared of all charges. The protest became a subject of controversy online in 2014, with some hailing Sulkowicz as a hero for women's rights, while others denounced her as a bully and false rape accuser.


In April 2013, Sulkowicz filed a complaint with Columbia University, alleging that fellow student Paul Nungesser had raped her in her dorm room on August 27th, 2012. In October that year, the university found Nungesser "not responsible." In May 2014, Sulkowicz filed a police report against Nungesser. That month, Nungesser's name began appearing in lists of "sexual assault violators" in various bathrooms and dorms on Columbia's campus. On May 16th, the Columbia Spectator[1] published an article about the alleged sexual assault, which named Nungesser as the alleged attacker. In August, the district attorney's office revealed they would not be pursuing the case against Nungesser. On September 2nd, 2014, the Columbia Daily Spectator YouTube channel uploaded a video titled "Emma Sulkowicz: 'Carry That Weight'", in which Sulkowicz describes how she will carry her mattress until Nungesser is expelled from school as part of her senior thesis project (shown below). In the first eight months, the video gained over 1.9 million views.

Notable Developments

On September 4th, Today aired a segment on Sulkowicz' mattress protest (shown below).

The same day, Tumblr[4] user anxius published a post naming Nungesser as Sulkowicz alleged rapist, along with the message "don't let him have any feeling of anonymity or security." Within 8 months, the post received more than 220 notes.

Nungesser's Response

On December 21st, 2014, The New York Times[2] published an article about the incident, included statements by Nungesser, who insisted he was innocent of the charges and stated that the complaints against him were the result of collusion. On February 3rd, 2015, The Daily Beast[3] published an article titled "Columbia Student: I Didn't Rape Her," which contained communications Sulkowicz sent to Nungesser after the alleged rape. In the messages, Sulkowicz asks to meetup with Nungesser several times and responds to a happy birthday message by saying “I love you Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!” nearly six weeks after the alleged rape (shown below). On the following day, the Washington Post[6] published an article about the mattress performance art piece, in which Nungesser states "It's explicitly designed to bully me into leaving the school."

Jean-Paul Ezhno Wednesday, 3 October 2012 at 17.10 EDT oh hai. happy born day! you better be celebrating muchos, no? also: donde estas tu i mi viva? see im so desperate with out you, ieven try to speak spanish. anywho: merry happy days Emma Sulkowicz I love you Paul. Where are you?121717 Thursday, 4 October 2012 at 1002 EDT

On April 23rd, 2015, the New York Times[8] reported that Nungesser had filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Columbia University, its president Lee C. Bollinger and three professors for allowing Sulkowicz to target him in a harassment campaign as part of her senior thesis. On the following day, Scribd[5] user jezebel2 posted Nungesser's complaint documents against the University.

Graduation Event

On May 19th, Sulkowicz carried her mattress to the Class Day graduation event at Columbia University.

#FakeRape Protests

On May 20th, @FakeRape[7] Twitter feed began posting photographs of various locations in New York City where posters of Sulkowicz holding her mattress along with the caption "Pretty Little Liar" (shown below).

* Follow Fake Rape @fakerape #FakeRape banners expose Columbia Columbia University , Columbia Spectator, Emma Sulkowicz and 3 others LITLE O03 RETWEETS FAVORITES 7:05 AM -20 May 2015

Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol

On June 4th, 2015, Sulkowicz released a short film titled “Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol” ("This Is Not a Rape"),[9] an allusion to the René Magritte's famous surrealist painting The Treachery of Images, that shows her having sex with a man in a dorm room setting that takes a violent turn. The eight-minute video, which is entirely shot in the voyeuristic style of a hidden camera sex tape, begins with the pair having what appears to be consensual sex, before it takes a violent turn when Sulkowicz is shown getting slapped and choked, while the man removes his condom and continues to have sex against her will.

08 14 CAM 1 CAM 2

The film was accompanied by a short description, which urged viewers to refrain from watching the video without her consent and ask themselves several questions after viewing the piece.

"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."

That day, the art news blog Art Net[10] published an interview with Sulkowicz about her latest video performance, in which she revealed she was primarily motivated to make a statement about sexual assault, online virality and social media. In addition, Sulkowicz also mentioned that the production of the video was in part made possible with the help of renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic. On June 5th, Redditor MiggyMcMiggy submitted a post about the video to the /r/TumblrInAction[11] subreddit, where it gained over 3,300 votes (92% upvoted) and 1,000 comments in the first seven hours. In the coming days, several news sites published articles about the film, including Jezebel,[12] The Daily Caller,[13] Time,[14] New York Daily News[15] and Reason.[16]

Search Interest

External References

Recent Videos 2 total

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Top Comments


in reply to poochyena

Look them up? She admits the "rape" started as a totally consensual encounter, and then the accused was able to provide the police with cell phone text messages from Emma after the "rape" asking him to hang out again and telling him she loved him. He wasn't interested in dating her, she turned around and cried rape and decided to carry a mattress around until he was expelled or left the school. Her teacher decided this was an effort worthy of an undergrad thesis and gave her an A for effort, despite not having an actual case. Now the guy is pissed because he can't get hired due to the allegations against him, do he's suing the school for gender discrimination and damages.


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