The NAKED WHITE GUY on campus controversy at Wellesley College

So Wellesley College is a women's college, (except for the M born F who are now straddling the gender divide and creating space for themselves there) Hilary Rodham Clinton went there and Madeline Albright and Nora Ephron and lots of rad people went there. And it's a private college. These are all important context for the story of the naked white guy sleepwalking in tighty whities on the side of the road on the way to the Pendelton building where we played a concert the other night. Tony Matelli who created the piece, was surprised by the stir it caused. Tears, girls protesting, angry letters the whole I'M OFFENDED as a core identifier amongst the emotional throngs of undergrads who told me their reactions were "frightened, triggered, offended, angry" and a host of other negatory feelings of infringement.

Here is what I asked the girls, "Would your reaction be different if it were a sculpture of a white woman sleepwalking in panties" (they didnt need to answer that one, I could predict similar reactions of outrage and rancor, "What if it were a black man, would it be a perceived as a racist sculpture? What if it were an asian woman? a small child? A St. Bernard? all in various stages of undress?" "What if a Christian group saw this thing would they react differently? What if a group of muslims saw it or black activists or old Harry Potter fans?"

This is where the act of art occurs on something like this. In the reaction. In the perceptions and the point of view of the audience. I don't even think the artist knew what he had created. Because honestly it's a dude sleepwalking. In underpants. It's a kind of blank canvas if you remove your own politics or feelings, or herstory, or ideological stance. It's a dude. Walking. He isnt even naked.  His nudity is implied, his sameness his state of vulnerability, asleep undressed, implied.  A world of reactions dresses him up alternately as racist, homophobe, rapist, colonizer.

I did point out that since it is a private college, technically the girls deserved an open discussion forum, a chance to react since their tuition in part pays for the campus projects. But if this had been a city street outside a gallery, the same brouhaha would likely erupt, with different argument points. It is good they protested and belly ached. That's their right as the audience.

I hope, despite all the feelings of "offended" (a mighty uncreative place from which to work btw and silencing and shut down) nonetheless i hope they enjoyed it, this beautiful intersection of artist and audience showcasing the way we really all paint our own canvases, we really co create each piece of art as the audience. A magnificent dialogue and opportunity for self examination.

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