Exhibition attacks perceptions about sexual assault

In 1993, a close friend of artist Charles Hall was sexually assaulted after a party. Hall has said that his friend didn’t scream or press charges out of fear that she would be blamed for the attack.

While nearly 20 years have passed, a BBC survey released just last week reveals that such concerns are still as relevant as ever. Nearly three quarters of the women surveyed believed that in certain instances, victims of sexual assault should shoulder at least some of the responsibility for an attack, particularly in situations where the victim had dressed provocatively, gone back to the attacker’s house for a drink or gotten in bed with him.

Coincidentally, just three days after that survey came out, Hall introduced the latest response to his friend’s assault: This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me—a multi-site exhibition now on view at Penn.

The three-part installation includes a photo exhibit in Cohen Hall’s Fox Art Gallery; banners across Locus Walk; and a graphics installation titled “I am the Me” (that would be the me of This is not an invitation to rape me) that will go up in the Annenberg School for Communication tomorrow. The exhibition will be on view through March 5.

According to the artist, the statement This is not an invitation to rape me attacks the perception that, when a woman is raped, she asked for it, deserved it or wanted it.

While Hall has introduced this idea before—through a guerilla sticker blitz in New York City, an anti-sexual assault campaign in Los Angeles and a similar campaign in Scotland—the exhibit at Penn marks the first time the idea has been inter­preted and expressed by fine artists and mem­bers of a school’s stu­dent body.

Nearly 30 artists have offered up their work for the exhibit, and Penn students have been involved from the very beginning, according to Susan B. Sorenson, the director of the co-sponsoring Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center. A variety of student voices appear in a sound installation in the Fox Gallery discussing their views of rape and sexual assault, and students also met with Hall multiple times to help plan and develop the exhibition.

The Fox installation consists of provocative depictions of body types, intimacy, relationships, vulnerability, alternative lifestyles and so on, all representing the greater theme that—no matter what is depicted—the man or woman is not inviting rape. Two photographs by Salva Lopez particularly summed up the theme to me: one of a woman walking alone on a dimly lit path at night, the other of a nude woman in the ocean, also alone.

“The primary message that I hope comes across is that women should be able to be all of who they are, and being all of who they are is not an invitation for rape,” Sorenson said. “We spend a lot of time focusing on ‘If she had done this,’ ‘If she had done that,’ ‘If she had done this instead.’ It’s as if rape is not something that simply happens – [the victim] had to have done something to invite it. I’m hoping that this exhibit helps address that misunderstanding.”

As Hall told the Daily Pennsylvanian: “Our goal is to use the exhibit to start a movement that raises awareness, attacks misperceptions and inspires people to talk about rape. Other movements have symbols. There’s the red ribbon for AIDS awareness, and there’s the pink ribbon for breast cancer. I hope the iconography we generate around the exhibit can do the same for the silent epidemic of rape.”

And that appears to be happening already: “This Is Not an Invitation to Rape Me” has become an international message, and the exhibition itself presents the work of artists from around the world: Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Antwerp, Johannesburg, Berlin and Manhattan, to name only a few.

You can see more images of the works currently on view here.

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