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Wellesley College president: 'Sleepwalker' will stay where it is through the spring

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 20, 2014 02:55 PM

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Photo by David L. Ryan, Globe Staff

Wellesley College sophomore Allie Mathews took a photo with the statue of a sleepwalking man.

The president of Wellesley College announced today that the college will definitively keep the Sleepwalker statue where it stands until the end of the temporary exhibit this spring.

The realistic-looking statue of a man sleepwalking in his underwear near the center of Wellesley College created a stir among the women on campus earlier this month, especially as hundreds of students at the all-women's college signed a petition asking administrators to remove it.

But Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly said in an internal communication to the school community Thursday that after weighing many perspectives, she decided that “we cannot destroy the artistic integrity of this exhibition by moving the sculpture, and also, we must do everything we can to support those students who find themselves deeply affected by it.”

Bottomly wrote that she reached the decision after talking with students, faculty, and staff.

"I have welcomed the depth of the dialogue and am grateful for the many voices and perspectives that have productively contributed to conversations about art, freedom, censorship, and feminism, to name a few," Bottomly wrote on her official blog.

The statue is part of an art exhibit featuring sculptor Tony Matelli at the college's Davis Museum. The exhibit, New Gravity, features sculptures that are often reversed, upended or atomized.

However, the statue of the sleepwalker -- which is hard to miss in a high-traffic area by both pedestrians and drivers near the campus center -- caused outrage among some students in just one day after its Feb. 3 installation. Zoe Magid, a Wellesley College junior majoring in political science, started a petition on Change.org with other students asking college president Bottomly to have the statue removed.

"[T]his highly lifelike sculpture has, within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for many members of our campus community," says the petition. "While it may appear humorous, or thought-provoking to some, it has already become a source of undue stress for many Wellesley College students, the majority of whom live, study, and work in this space."

Matelli previously told the Globe that he thinks criticism of the Sleepwalker is unfounded.

“Everyone brings to a work of art their own interpretation, their own history and their own baggage,” he said. “I think people might be seeing things in that work that just aren’t there.”

Tony Matelli: New Gravity will be on exhibit from Feb. 5 through May 11 in the Bronfman and Chandler galleries, and Feb. 5 through July 20 in the Jobson and Tanner galleries. The exhibition is free and open to the general public.

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Follow us on Twitter: @ycwellesley, @jaclynreiss

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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