Committed, eccentric, controversial and sensitive is the art of South African Steven Cohen,...
Committed, eccentric, controversial and sensitive. I would dare say that the avant-gardism of South African artist Steven Cohen on the stage is very far from giving rise to indifference, not even in detractors of the radical and activist aesthetics defining his work, built with his own body and moving along sculpture, dance, performance and transvestism.
The 11th Havana Biennial is favored by Cohen’s presence and art, which has aroused the interest of famous museums and collectors. But he likes to “exhibit” himself in rather unconventional places (taxi stops, squares, malls or dog competitions) to which he arrives without previous warning or authorization, and is almost never welcome.
Snapshots exhibited in Galería Origenes in our capital are a testimony of his provocative appearances in Vienna, Japan or New York, where, with acute and irritating exaltation, he confronts the topics of Judaism, homosexuality and the way of life in consumption society.
Apart from his condition as a Jew, the maxim “danger is not to be found in how we remember as much as in how we forget” was perhaps the leitmotiv to restage the humiliation the Austrian population suffered in 1938, when the Nazi made them clean the streets with toothbrushes.
In 2007, the artist arrived in the same place with a giant toothbrush and recalled the shameful historical event. The cleaning covered other areas and monuments on the Holocaust which he considers do not fulfill the purpose of remembering the horrors they commemorate. The local police stopped the piece.
Although a quick look at some of his visual advertisements – that of the anus penetrated (by a diamond) – refer us to sexuality, his actions, he warns, deal with the politics of race and gender.
Without dissociating himself from the topic, since “the horror of this tragedy was genetically handed down to him,” during the 2010 Aichi Triennial in Japan he undertook the representation of A Wandering Jew, which he will continue in Cuba.
With a small baby suit, “which implies having been born with the fate of a life in trade and the obsessive search for money,” the performer also questions the westernization Japanese inhabitants suffer.
As an ideologist and an interpreter, he also undertook a piece we can now relive thanks to photography: Golgotha.
The project started in 2005 when, on a visit to the Iron Babel, he discovered a fashionable gift shop where real human skulls were sold as decoration objects. He bought two, transformed them into a pair of aesthetic and precarious shoes, and sported them down the Time Square, Wall Street and Zero Zone.
“It is a work on how we live and the questionings an insane mercantile capitalist society in which everything is for sale, from human dignity to the bones of the dead, makes us.”
“With these shoes, I feel like a terrorist immolated in haute couture,” the creator declared, always intent in making from his living body a work of art that may turn ethical principles into actions as simple as walking or eating.
Translated by Gertrudis Ortega