A Miami-based non-profit museum is at the center of controversy after two models claim they were pressured to insert rope into their vaginas as part of an art installation. The Miami New Times reports that the performance is part of Brazilian artist Laura Lima's solo exhibition The Inverse at Miami's Institute of Contemporary Art, a non-profit museum.
The exhibit consists of a length of industrial rope snaking across the gallery floor and up through the building's support beams. The rope is then seen to disappear into the lower half of a female body that lies prone on the museum floor; only her legs are visible through a hole in the wall. According to the gallery's own materials, "set still and partially out of view, the participant's body achieves uncanny abstraction, presence, and suspense."
Kayla Delacerda, 24, answered a casting call to take part in Lima's exhibition. Although the job only paid $15 per hour, Delacerda told the The New Times, "it would be an honor to participate in the exhibit with the ICA and that I'd be OK."
Delacerda contends she attended a casting call on May 25 in which it emerged that she would be expected to insert the rope vaginally, using finger condoms and lube. She alleges that Lima told participants that the rope "must at least touch the vagina," despite there having been no mention of vaginal insertion in the original casting call. Disturbed by Lima's request, Delacerda backed out. In an email to the museum, she wrote, "It's really messed up that the artist wants to hire people at $15 an hour to lie down with a piece of rope penetrating women's bodies sexually."
Another model, who goes by "Alice," did go ahead with the exhibition, after receiving assurances from exhibit manager Kerri Kneer that she wouldn't be forced to do anything she felt uncomfortable with. Despite these assurances, Alice claims that on opening night Lima pressured her into inserting the rope vaginally—which she did—saying it was critical to the piece. Speaking to the publication, Alice explained, "I was alone with the artist and felt cornered."
For the next four hours, Alice lay supine on the floor with the rope inserted inside her while gawking crowds wondered if she was real. "I was panicking, terrified…When it happened, I was so vulnerable and going through a lot emotionally," she told the New Times.
Museum director Ellen Salpeter denies the claims in an interview with Broadly. "From the outset of planning for Laura Lima's exhibition at the museum, the safety, privacy, and comfort of each participant has been built into our policies surrounding this piece," she said.
Salpeter disputes Alice's claim that she was pressured into inserting the rope. "The museum and the artist explicitly told the performers that their privacy and comfort is paramount, and that they should not under any circumstance do anything they did not wish to do."
When asked if any other performers have inserted the rope vaginally during the exhibition, Salpeter responded, "This is not a requirement of the work. Each participant has the freedom to decide how she will perform the work and has been explicitly told this during the preparatory meetings. We are not aware that any of the four current performers have participated in this way."
Salpeter also points to a written agreement with contracted performers, signed prior to the performance, which states: "ICA Miami and the Artist do not require or recommend the placement of certain physical objects in the Contractor's body and any decision by the Contractor to do so is entirely by the contractor's own free will."
Salpeter expressed concern "for this performer, since she says she had a very unpleasant experience." Whether Alice's claims can be proven or not, the incident will sound familiar to many who feel that artists' models need better protections. Meanwhile, Alice feels the after-effects to this day, she told the New Times. "I cried for hours in that room, and I had to lie to my friend who saw me and say it was from heartache."
Update: In a note to Broadly, Tommy Pace, associate director of Institute of Contemporary Art, relays that "there was a thorough briefing process before the exhibition, which included meetings between the performers, the artist, and ICA Miami to discuss the work. He added, that Alice "was involved in three subsequent performances over the course of one week following the opening night, and the museum was not made aware of her claims until contacted by the New Times reporter."
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, we refered to the Institute of Contemporary Art as a gallery, instead of a non-profit museum. We regret the error.