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Suzanne Lacy

Suzanne Lacy is an American artist and activist whose career spans forty years. She consistently tackles themes of gender violence, segregation and other social justice issues. Her work combines “social practice art”—intended to involve communities in discussion or debate and “new genre public art,” her own term for public art that is created outside institutional structures to engage directly with an audience.

Lacy was raised in the San Joaquin Valley of California, which she called the “Appalachia of the West,” then studied science at university. She first came to international attention with “Three Weeks in May,” a three-week long series of performances in May, 1977 that was reenacted in 2014.  Initially she had considered a performance in a gallery—daily rape reports stamped onto a wall. Upon further reflection she realized that there was no point in talking about rape in an art gallery when one could be raped on the way home.  Instead she placed a large map of LA in the public shopping mall near City Hall.  Each day Lacy went to the police department’s central office to obtain the previous day’s rape reports and stamped them on the map. Surrounding these, she made fainter stamp mark representing the estimated nine additional rapes for every one reported.  At the same time, she and a group of collaborators produced thirty additional events around the city, all on the theme of rape, garnering significant television and print media coverage for a previously taboo topic.

This integrated, publicly confrontational approach is a recurring them in Lacy’s work, drawing focus onto previously marginalized issues. In addition to rape, she has also tackled sexual violence, race and inequality. She’s also well known for focusing on issues related to women’s aging, and how society renders older women invisible. Several projects, including Whisper, the Waves, the Wind, and its sequel, The Crystal Quilt, featured dramatic public performances involving hundreds of older women. In each case, the purpose of the project was to cast a deliberate gaze onto older women, their roles, their needs, their issues.

In addition to her work as an artist, Lacy has also inspired generations through her leadership in educational positions, including serving as the Dean of Fine Arts at California College of the Arts from 1987 to 1997, and previously as the Arts Commissioner of Oakland, CA. She currently teaches at the University of Southern California.