Warning: readers may find the content disturbing
A young Melbourne woman who recorded herself being “raped” by a stranger hopes the video shown as part of an art exhibition will help “dismantle male power”.
The 31-year-old woman says she arranged and choreographed the confronting three-minute "self-orchestrated rape” scene by inviting a stranger into her New York apartment to participate in the project.
Sophia Hewson, who says she uses her body in her work to explore female self-objectification, described the video as a "militant feminist" piece.
The piece, entitled Untitled (“are you ok bob”?), she says undermines male domination and “threatens our assumption that man's power is insurmountable”.
“Central to this work is also the idea that rape is more than an unwanted sexual act, that it is the foundation for the entire institution of the patriarchy, and hence it is the crucial battleground for dismantling male power,” she wrote in an artist statement.
“If rape is the ultimate weapon of male-domination, then anything outside of being permanently impacted by the experience, undermines male weaponry.”
Throughout the video, the lens remains on the woman’s face, focusing on her facial expression. Arms and hands are all you see of the man known only as Bob.
“The raped woman is nearly always depicted with her face downcast and her eyes averted,” Hewson said.
By filming the “rape”, Hewson says she is owning how the raped woman is perceived.
Rather than the video representing how she says society depicts raped women - eyes downcast, broken and shivering – her staged encounter shows her looking back out at the viewer from the experience “as a subject, not an object”.
She says the video acts as a protest of women’s need to self-sacrifice, but acknowldges not everyone will understand her work.
“Women who prioritise the emotional well-being of others; women who cannot extricate themselves from grief or abuse because they've been taught to bury their needs, - these things aren't just socially encouraged, they're the residue of female subjugation,” she says.
“Throughout history women have endured and internalised. Gestures of externalisation and violence were a male privilege.
“Today when a woman represses (or internalises) her needs, she is likely manifesting the scar-tissue of that history.”
Hewson has exhibited across Australia and internationally, and was a finalist for the Archibald Prize in 2014 and 2015.
She has spent time with porn stars in LA and a polygamous Mormon cult in Utah, as research and inspiration for her work.
‘Are you ok bob?' will be shown at the MARS gallery in Melbourne until June 2.
If you or someone you know is suffering from sexual or domestic abuse, don't suffer in silence, call the National sexual assault helpline1800 RESPECT: 1800 737 732 any time of day or night.'
Victorian sexual assault crisis line: 1800 806 292
News break – May 20