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Feb 06, 2014 12:45 PM EST

Wellesley College Students Protest Sculpture Of Lifelike, Walking Underwear Man


The artistic story behind a sculpture titled "Sleepwalker," a pale man dressed only in classic "tighty whitey" underwear, starts in the Davis Museum at Wellesley College and ends frozen (almost literally) in a prominent place near the school's campus center, Campus Reform reported. As its name indicates, the intended effect is to communicate a museum escape, and ultimately extend the exhibit from the museum to the adjoining campus.

But it's caused other effects, some not so friendly. Reactions have ranged from amused students snapping photos to those who claim the statue is "a trigger for students who have experienced sexual assault."

As a result, over 500 students have signed a petition against the wandering man on

Either sculptor Tony Matelli chose the worst location/time to stage his creation, or the best. Wellesley is an all-women's college, while higher education institutions across the country have recently been forced into greater accountability regarding sexual assault.

Indeed, Matelli's intent was to spark discussion, presumably beyond the walker's less than fashionable under garment choices.

"As the best art does, Tony Matelli's work provokes dialogue, and discourse is at the core of education," Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman wrote in the closing paragraph describing the exhibit on Wellesley's website after gauging student reactions (which, she noted, haven't been all positive).

Fischman has since defended the sculpture, re-posting the full description as a response to the petition. Perhaps as a response to sexual assalt concerns, she noted in her description the sculpture is "not naked" and "profoundly passive."

Students for the petition, including its author, junior Zoe Magid, didn't feel she adequately addressed campus concerns.

"We were really disappointed that she seemed to articulate that she was glad it was starting discussion, but didn't respond to the fact that it's making students on campus feel unsafe, which is not appropriate," Magid told "We really feel that if a piece of art makes students feel unsafe, that steps over a line."

In her petition, Magid made a similar argument -- that if something offends a large enough group of students, it should be removed, regardless of its intent.

Senior art history major Annie Wang agreed with that notion, and also wondered whether the sculpture's overextended its artistic boundaries.

"I think art's intention is to confront, but not assault, and people can see this as assaulting," Wang said. "Wellesley is a place where we're supposed to feel safe. I think place and a context matters, and I don't think this is the place to put it."

Of course, it wouldn't be college if the issue wasn't split, even among faculty members.

"I find it disturbing, but in a good way," said Sarah Wall-Randell, an English professor at Wellesley. "I think it's meant to be off-putting - it's a schlumpy guy in underpants in an all-women environment."

Students will have a chance to hear the artist's true purpose when Motelli visits Wellesley on Feb. 12, according to He'll speak and field questions following a screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey" (I hate that movie!).

Below (or above?) is another Matelli creation and demonstrates how his work "upends expectations, challenges and calls perception into question," according to Fischman.

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