Generally speaking, artist Tony Matelli's work is unsettling. From sculptures made of meat to monkey murder, there's a deep unrest massaged into a majority of his art. But does that make it sexual assault? One group of Wellesley College students says so.

Wellesley is currently hosting an exhibit of Matelli's work, which they're promoting via a statue of his, The Sleepwalker, placed outside the museum. Problem is, it looks like this:

As you can see, it's a hyper-realistic statue of a dazed man in his underwear, lumbering forward to parts unknown. It's a hit on Instagram, but a Change.org petition to have the work removed thinks a little differently.

"Within just a few hours of its outdoor installation, the highly lifelike sculpture by Tony Matelli, entitled 'Sleepwalker,' has become a source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault for some members of our campus community," wrote Wellesley junior Zoe Magid in the petition.

The comments, however, took the criticism to a whole new level. From charges of sexism to gender baiting, detractors really let the detractions fly:

  • "Your claim that Sleepwalker is passive is spoken in privilege and without regard to the many students on this campus who have faced and survived assault, racism, and many other forms of violent oppression,"
  • "He 'appears' like a creepy pervert! There are so many talented artists who create BEAUTY! This is not art! It's a sexual assault!"
  • "What does this statue do if not remind us of the fact of male privilege every single time we pass it, every single time we think about it, every single time we are forced to acknowledge its presence. As if we need any more reminders."

There are, however, supporters to counteract those claims. The best of which, of course, comes from museum director Lisa Fishman:

"Arms outstretched, eyes closed, he appears vulnerable and unaware against the snowy backdrop of the space around him. He is not naked. He is profoundly passive. He is inert, as sculpture."

In that sense, it appears as if we're searching for something to be offended at with this one. Sure, the "triggers," as Magid says, may be there, but the likelihood that they'll be tripped is another debate entirely. Removing the statue, however, does have a 100 percent likelihood of stifling freedom of expression—and that's on top of ruining a pretty good time, too.

[Slate]