By Andrea Baker
It is a simple truth that throughout history, certain rapes have become “famous.” Old Master painters depicted sexual violence again and again, generally representing it as the transcendent work of heroes. Traditional Catholic stories teach that it is better to die during an attempted rape than it is to survive a completed one.
In 19th- and 20th-century America, notorious fear about the sexuality of Black men
wreaked havoc. From the days of Reconstruction through to the Central Park Jogger, wild accusations justified the literal and metaphoric lynching of men perceived as threats to white power.
Meanwhile, a revolution did take place. Conversations became public. Laws changed. In 1974 it was legal in all fifty states to rape one’s wife. By 1980, when a CBS movie of the week dramatized the first case of marital rape to come to trial, the depiction of events was told from the woman’s point of view—she was the hero. By 1993, marital rape was illegal in all fifty states.
Still, sexual assaults occurring in prisons remain comic fodder, and when our athletes rape, we remain unclear about whether a crime has been committed.
Andrea Baker’s project is to reflect on the history of how rape has been depicted.
She draws images of sexual assault from both art history and contemporary visual culture, remaking them as spare white paper cutouts against a paper-packing-tape background. The swath of time from Mesopotamia to the present day is flattened and rolled out in unflinching continuity. As difficult as the material is, we do see progress within a history that is not always as distant we might prefer, and Baker is insistent that we celebrate our accomplishments, even as we continue to evolve.
Rape Culture from the Sabine Women to the Steubenville, Ohio Football Players
About the Author
Andrea Baker is an artist and writer. Her most recent full-length collection of poetry is Each Thing Unblurred is Broken (Omnidawn, 2015). She has been a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellow, and, in 2005, she was the recipient of the Slope Editions Book Prize for Like Wind Loves a Window. Her cut-out work has been featured in The Rumpus and anthologized in Family Resemblance: An Anthology of Eight Hybrid Literary Genres (Rose Metal Press, 2015). In addition to her work on the page, she is a subject in the documentary, A Rubberband Is An Unlikely Instrument. Her interest in visual and material culture is fed by her current employment as an appraiser of arts and antiques. She lives in Brooklyn.