Student Artist Spotlight: Lily Gilmore ‘24 honors sexual assault survivors with performance art piece

Lily+Gilmore+24+represented+each+survivor+of+campus+sexual+assault+with+a+teal+ribbon+in+her+piece.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Lily+Gilmore+24%29

Lily Gilmore ’24 represented each survivor of campus sexual assault with a teal ribbon in her piece. (Photo courtesy of Lily Gilmore ’24)

Madeline Marriott, Assistant Arts and Culture Editor

For Lily Gilmore ‘24, art is more than just a creative outlet. It is a tool to call attention to important social issues on campus.

Gilmore chose her topic when designing a performance art piece for her studio art class Materials and Methods.

“I wanted to do the piece on something I felt strongly about, and that was sexual assault, specifically on this campus,” she explained. 

Gilmore’s first-ever performance art piece, entitled “93,” features 93 ribbons nailed onto a wooden board. Each of these ribbons represents a reported case of sexual assault on Lafayette’s campus over the last four years.

“I wanted to do a period of four years because it means that anyone currently on campus would have their experience included,” Gilmore said.

The project began with gathering data. After an unsuccessful attempt at filtering through police reports of incidents, Gilmore reached out to the Division of Campus Life, where Student Advocacy and Prevention Coordinator Katy Bednarsky directed her to data from the Office of Educational Equity.

All elements of the piece were chosen purposefully, from the colors to the materials to the shapes. The piece features teal ribbons, a symbol of sexual assault awareness. The board and the ribbons are also covered in red paint, a choice that was deeply symbolic to Gilmore as well.

“I painted the board by dipping my hands in red paint and rubbing them on the canvas. Then I would dip my hands back in the red paint and pick up the ribbons and nail them on,” Gilmore said. “When I took away the ribbons, all that was left was the red, like blood on their hands.”

The performance was captured on video with Lady Gaga’s song “Til it Happens to You” playing in the background. Originally, Gilmore planned for the video to show her nailing each of the ribbons onto the board. However, a camera mishap led to a change in plans.

“I painted and started the whole process of hammering in the ribbons, and then I realized my camera wasn’t recording,” Gilmore said. “I called my mom, and she said, ‘Why don’t you film yourself taking it down? It still works that way.’”

“It actually worked out even better that way,” Gilmore continued. “Part of what I wanted to do was make a commentary about how Lafayette specifically deals with sexual assault, and how they remove it from student view.”

Gilmore’s technique in the removal of the ribbons is also meant to mirror the difficult journey of survivors.

“Healing doesn’t happen in a way that’s methodical,” Gilmore explained. “I didn’t wanna take [the ribbons] down in a way that was orderly or visually pleasing, because people heal in different ways.” 

Gilmore hopes her art piece will spark a conversation surrounding Lafayette’s policy on handling sexual assault.

“These people are so much more than a number, but that’s what they get reduced to by Lafayette,” she explained.

“There’s so much emphasis on what we, as students, can do to stop things, putting a lot of pressure on students to make that change,” Gilmore continued. “There’s no disciplinary action that takes place, and then Lafayette can turn and say that we have to take the first step to stop it, but no. There needs to be disciplinary measures in place that take away the people who are doing that.”

The video of Gilmore’s performance can be found on her Instagram page @lilyygilmore.

Those struggling with experiences of sexual assault can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.  All forms of sexual harassment on Lafayette’s campus can be reported at sash.lafayette.edu.