Andrea Bowers has long been concerned with subjects such as the environment and AIDS, as well as workers’, migrants’ and women’s rights. Exhibited as key components of her 2014 project #sweetjane, the drawings selected for the Biennale reference the Steubenville Rape Case of 2013 and, more specifically, the callous and bragging text messages and posts exchanged between its protagonists.
The large multipartite drawing installation reveals disturbing and dehumanizing tendencies in social media that enable rape culture and escalate the impact of violation. The text messages are painstakingly rendered by Bowers and float on blue/black fields suggestive of the disembodiment and artifice of the digital realm. A drawing of the members of the hactivist group Anonymous accompanies this installation. Wearing masks to protect themselves, they demonstrate to end sexual violence on behalf of “Jane Doe,” the victim in this case. In this way, Bowers examines the conflicted ethics of identification and anonymity at play in the case. While anonymity offers protection to the victim, it reduces her ability to be identified and thereby empathized with. In contrast, the violators secure a level of sympathy by virtue of their sporting achievements. By tracing historical struggles into the present through their contemporary replays, Bowers questions the progress made while also revealing opposing forces currently working both for and against the goal of social justice.