The School of Visual Arts in New York is holding a special student forum on Thursday in response to an outcry over a photo called “Dolphin Rape Cave.”
The work features men in dolphin costumes and underwear-clad women posed in a mock rape scene. It’s currently hanging in SVA’s photography building, displayed in a makeshift frame of thick black tape.
Over the weekend, a student named Sarah Thomasson launched a petition on Change.org demanding the photo be taken down and saying it could serve as a "trigger" for sexual assault victims.
“This photograph furthers the idea of rape culture ... that commodifies rape, [it] makes the horrific experience of rape into something to be appreciated. This is supposed to be an art installation. RAPE IS NOT ART, RAPE IS A CRIME.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition had been signed by more than 350 people, with many tweeting their disgust at an image that apparently intended to be humorous.
Thomasson said she also emailed Stephen Frailey, SVA’s chair of photography, demanding action.
Michael Grant, SVA’s director of communication, told International Business Times that the school “takes the intellectual growth and emotional well-being of students seriously,” but also supports the rights of its students to express themselves artistically in a censorship-free environment.
“SVA recognizes that some students object to the display of the artwork in question, and supports their right to express their views,” Grant said. “However, because freedom of expression is central to our educational mission, and indeed the health of a democratic society, the college does not engage in censorship.”
Nevertheless, in light of the response to “Dolphin Rape Cave,” school officials have organized a student forum in the hopes of putting the work into context and discussing the issues surrounding it. “The issues to be discussed on Thursday range from censorship and artistic license to feminism, sexism and the power of images,” Grant said.
IBTimes reached out to Thomasson through Change.org, but we have not received a response. In her petition, Thomasson wrote that she believes SVA should be a safe place for students and staff, and the work in question does not reinforce that idea.
“Dolphin Rape Cave” is a reference to the countless news articles and viral videos that purport to show dolphins engaged in -- or trying to engage in -- forced sexual acts with other dolphins and even people. As a cultural meme, the idea of “dolphin rape” appears to have peaked in July 2012, when Google searches for the term spiked.
But it turns out dolphins might just be getting a bad rap. Last year, Justin Gregg, an expert in dolphin behavior, attempted to dispel the persistent myth, noting in a blog post that while other animals -- primates, lizards, birds and insects, for example -- engage in what would be considered rape in the human world, “researchers have never witnessed forced copulation” among dolphins.
Read Thomasson’s full petition here.