Sexual Violence and Visual Culture

This roundtable at the National Women’s Studies Association in 2021 was hosted by Joanna Gardner-Huggett of DePaul University and Angelique Szymanek at Hobart & William Smith College. Contributors, including Karen Cordero Reiman and Monika Fabijanska, both of whom are curators, discussed practices of curation, art practice, and censorship related to representations of sexual violence. I was a bit of an outlier in this conversation, speaking about representations of male/male sexual violence primarily in literature, film, and television.

Organizers’ Rationale
While there has been some recent attention paid to the production of feminist art addressing sexual violence within the context of the U.S. in the 1970s, a transnational interdisciplinary perspective has yet to make its way into institutions of higher education or art to a significant degree. Rape, in particular, holds a paradoxical place within various cultural contexts wherein its image plays a foundational role in visual regimes of entertainment and advertising culture yet is nearly absent within critical discourse. This workshop aims to bring cultural producers, educators, and scholars together to share their experiences with engaging in work that addresses sexual violence, an endeavor that is frequently met with dismissal, refusal, or denial on institutional and inter-personal levels. It encourages participants and attendees to consider the difficulties and possibilities presented when imaging and viewing rape. In particular, it allows folks from distinct social, geographic, cultural, and institutional or extra-institutional contexts to articulate the conditions of making and viewing that shape their practices. It aims to produce constructive dialogue across disciplines and geographies that illuminate the complex conditions of addressing rape and, in particular, seeking to present it in ways that are not easily co-opted by hegemonic framing of rape as erotic fantasy, just punishment, or anomalous horror.