A performer from Marina Abramovic’s performance in the Museum of Modern Art is suing the museum, claiming that MOMA failed to take action after he was sexually assaulted by attendees 14 years ago.
John Bonafede alleges that he was sexually assaulted by five attendees at the 2010 retrospective “The Artist is Present” where he and another performer were hired to participate in the work “Imponderabilia”. The work featured Bonafede and the other female performer facing one another fully nude in complete silence in a doorway about 18 inches apart.
The exhibition ran from March 14 to May 31 2010, and was curated by the museum to encourage visitors to pass in between the performers as they traversed through each exhibition. The suit that Bonafede is filing states that the people who assaulted him were older men, who nearing the finality of the exhibition non-consensually groped Bonafede’s private areas thrice before being stopped by security.
Bonafede had also witnessed another attendee sexually assault his female colleague by kissing her on the mouth without consent. He reported four of the attendees to museum staff and security immediately, who was witness to the fifth attendee’s non-consensual touching of Bonafede. One of the perpetrators was a corporate member of the museum who had his membership revoked and was kicked out of the museum, according to the suit.
The suit was filed in Manhattan on Monday under the New York Adult Survivors Act, a special state law that creates a year-long suspension of the usual time limit for accusers to sue. Despite the law expiring last year, the suit states that the parties agreed to extend the closing window. Leading up to this exhibition, concerns were voiced in a letter to the museum by the performers about performing nude and possibly being subjected to harassment.
Although MOMA knew about this issue, their priorities did not align with the safety of the performers, their failure to take action to protect the performers and prevent further sexual assaults is seen by, for example, their negligence in telling visitors ahead of time that touching was not allowed.
Bonafede agreed to continue performing despite the assaults due to the “tough it out” culture of the exhibition, but as a result, suffered from years of emotional distress. His body image, mental health and career were all damaged as a result of the incident.
Jordan Fletcher, Bonafede’s lawyer, declined further comments on the suit but stated they would seek a jury trial and compensatory damages.
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