This week, Texas State University fine arts student Monika Rostvold made a bit of noise due to her live performance piece, which featured her sitting nearly naked on the steps of the the Albert B. Alkek Library on campus. For 45 minutes, Rostvold sat with only a blindfold, a pair of headphones, pasties and a nude-colored thong to cover her up. Rostvold was interested in the reactions her fellow students would have to her naked body’s presence and her mental preoccupation from the music.

“At first, everyone was like ‘what the heck?'” Rostvold told the San Antonio Express-News,

Monika Rostvold sat nearly naked on the stairs to the Alkek Library at Texas State University as a form of protest against sexual assault. PHOTO VIA DIOTIME1

Monika Rostvold sat nearly naked on the stairs to the Alkek Library at Texas State University as a form of protest against sexual assault. PHOTO VIA DIOTIME1

claiming that the reactions she received were less than friendly. She stated that people were not only taking pictures with her, but also touching her as she sat, remaining totally distant.

I admit to being at first somewhat put off by this protest. Sure, I was able to appreciate Rostvold’s efforts to bring light to an issue that has been dimmed for so long, and her commitment to the protest is admirable. As a protest, though, I thought it to be a little too esoteric, and easily susceptible to misinterpretation.

Do not get me wrong. I applaud her efforts — and any efforts, for that matter — to spark social reconsideration of these imperative issues. I could not help myself, though, from critiquing the general effectiveness of this act as an attempted protest. It is not clear from her presentation what exactly she is challenging, if she was challenging anything at all. Many students thought she was just a lost homeless person. Rostvold could have just as easily been challenging the integrity of the fashion industry based on the sight alone.

Rostvold clarified to the San Antonio Express-News that the purpose behind the stunt was that she “wanted people to view [her] body as beauty and power and not a sexual object.” She wanted to “create a piece about the standards that exist in our society,” and to “take control of my body by eliminating my presence and exposing myself.”

What is perhaps more apparent than Rostvold’s commitment to this stunt is the vulnerable spirit it projected. As a protest, Rostvold’s feat is courageous as anything. As a spectacle, though, we see nothing less than the pinnacle human defenselessness. And this is where Rostvold’s message becomes clear. Even the Texas State University students who were slow to grasp the idea behind the stunt were unable to deny the vulnerability Rostvold projected.

It was not until I chose to view this act not as a protest but as a form of art that I began to understand, in my own way, the statement behind the demonstration. However, I could not do this without first understanding the message behind the protest. Once I did understand, though, I no longer saw a nearly nude woman listening to music and sitting on some steps. What I saw instead was an authentic, raw depiction of the effects of sexual assault — alone, vulnerable and verbally and mentally preoccupied.

The more I look into this protest, the more I like it. The simplicity that had previously turned me off is the very feature that makes this protest so open to subjective interpretation. And I think she knew this going into it. I congratulate her courage and commitment to a cause that needs this sort of attention.