artist films her own fake rape to 'fight the patriarchy'

Sophia Hewson says her highly controversial video is a "militant feminist" statement about sexual assault. Not everyone sees it that way.

by Hannah Ongley
20 May 2016, 10:47pm


Art can spur the conversation about sexual assault in ways that are unpleasant yet sometimes very necessary. One year ago, courageous college student Emma Sulkowicz received a figurative standing ovation from feminists when she carried her mattress around Colombia University to protest sexual assault on campus. Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) certainly got people talking about how society views nonconsensual sex (aka rape) and who gets blamed for it. A new "militant feminist" performance piece by Sophia Hewson is hoping to address similar issues, though Hewson is not receiving quite the same level of applause. 

are you ok bob? is a "self-orchestrated rape representation" video that has already proven rather controversial. In the three-minute video, 31-year-old Hewson's face stares directly into the camera while being shoved around by the hairy hand of a stranger, "Bob." Hewson apparently invited Bob into her New York home to have sex with her so that she could summon a real fear of being assaulted. "The most confronting aspect of are you ok bob? isn't watching as a woman is struck or penetrated," Hewson said in a press release, "it's seeing her look back out at us from the experience. Caught in her gaze, the viewer is not only forced to bear witness to her subjectivity, but implicated in her desolation." She points out that victims are "nearly always represented with her face down and her eyes averted." 

Needless to say, the video is extremely challenging and hasn't exactly been a resounding hit. "Rape is not an artistic medium," wrote one Facebook commenter. "Thank you for discounting 1000s of women's experience with rape. Disgusting." Another accused Hewson of acting exactly as a rapist would. "You fed off the pain of millions of victims in order to empower yourself, to get notoriety," she wrote. "You are a rapist." Hewson clearly anticipated a bit of backlash, but claims that this too is part of the performance. "Our horrified reaction to the subject of rape isn't just about our desire to eradicate the epidemic," she says, "if it was it would go hand in hand with legal reforms, political prioritization, and a genuine support for victims." 

are you ok bob? is on view at Mars Gallery in Melbourne, Australia, from May 19 through June 2. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via Mars Gallery

sexual assault
are you ok bob?
sophia hewson