Portion of the exhibition poster by Suzanne Lacey
Artist Suzanne Lacy has recreated aspects of her landmark performance art piece, “Three Weeks in May,” with an installation that focuses on Los Angeles today, decades into the anti-rape movement, and features a candlelight ceremony on January 27.
In 1977, Los Angeles was called the U.S. rape capital. Nearly 2,400 rapes were reported to police that year alone. Many women in the movement against rape suspected that only one out of ten rapes were actually reported, but in fact, no one took the crime seriously enough to study it. Victims suffered in silence; rape was not something people discussed in the city of glam and glitter.
In May of that year, I installed an oversized Fire Department map in the mall below City Hall. Each day for three weeks, I stamped the word “RAPE” to mark the location of the reported crime, according to statistics I got from the police. I also placed shadow markings for those believed to have occurred, but went unreported. At the end of those three weeks, 84 rapes covered the map, a visual reminder that ignoring the abuse of so many people only protected their attackers.
Sometime last year the Getty Research Center approached me about recreating that performance as one of Los Angeles’ important works from the era. In considering recreation of any artwork, a practice now common 40 years after performance art began in Los Angeles, I had to first ask: what was different now?
Produced by LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions), the map is on display outside of LAPD Headquarters in downtown LA until February 1. Now named Three Weeks in January, the project is similar in spirit to May, and many of the individuals that collaborated with me then are involved today.
But the differences between May and January are significant.
2011 has had entirely different statistics. LA’s reported rape count stands at 683, a 20 percent decrease from the previous year. An approximate 60 to 65 percent are still never reported, but rape accusations are now enough to topple politicians, celebrities and entire football programs. That long-established code of silence has strained under the pressure of media and public scrutiny.
Out in the open, and viral
If I had to point to an overarching cause for this shift, it would have to be that the discussion of sexual violence has gone viral. What started in feminist consciousness-raising groups moved to the offices of elected officials, law enforcement and the medical establishment. Campaigns like Denim Day, V-Day and Slut Walk have not only mobilized hundreds of thousands, but also fought off harmful myths. Now every significant effort to prevent sexual violence has an online presence, and a global reach.
Today, confronting rape can be done in 140 characters, like in Three Weeks in January’s “I know someone, do you? #RapeEndsHere” campaign. Or in the backlash against the #ItAintRapeif hashtag. OrMs. magazine’s #RapeisRape action that successfully pushed the FBI to include other penetrative acts and male victims into the definition of rape.
The conversation is out in the open, and anyone with an Internet connection can join. The ability to post anonymously has allowed people to express their unfettered opinion, and for myths to be exposed. Articles, blogs, private survivor forums and email make rape a common topic. It would be foolish to call the Internet a “safe space,” but there are sites where victims can find a community, support, or just some place to share their story without worry or shame.
Yes, we lose the intimate quality of a consciousness-raising session, but even without physical presence, sharing continues. The Internet simply allows for a larger group, one with more voices and a greater diversity of experience.
However the discussion on rape unfolds, at least this is certain: sexual violence thrives when we turn a blind eye and when victims are shamed or pressured to keep quiet to protect their assailants, or their families. Rape is a crime of recidivism, which makes it a crime we all have to confront—by talking, by Tweeting, by commenting, and by gathering. If the former rape capital can transform itself into a city bent on eradicating sexual violence, any city can do it. Someone just has to start the conversation.
Three Weeks in January invites all those who have been victims of sexual violence or know someone who has to join them in a Candlelight Ceremony on January 27 at 5 to 8 pm in front of the map, located at 100 West 1st Street in Los Angeles.
This post first appeared on the site of the Women’s Media Center.
Portion of exhibition poster: By Suzanne Lacy