Unspeakable Acts

Aesthetica Magazine

A review of Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Sexual Violence in the 1970s

Nancy Princenthal (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2019)

“[I]n 1970 you could not find stories of women who were raped,” recounts Suzanne Lacy, early in Unspeakable Acts. During the decade that followed, these stories began to emerge in America. What changed? Nancy Princenthal would answer, art. 

Princenthal’s research finds an organising image in Lacy’s Three Weeks in May: a performance that centred around a map of Los Angeles, hung in the City Mall, pin-pointing the 83 rapes, attempted rapes, and the 747 estimated assaults that went unreported during three weeks in 1977. Princenthal is most interested in artists, who, through literal cartography, immersive performance, or shocking installations, create confrontation between private experience and the public sphere, while offering some way of charting sexual violence — a form of assault that has a thorny history of representation…