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Steven Cohen

Updated: Jan 19, 2019

Artist 28 Steven Cohen Performance Art

Steven Cohen is a South African performance artist who lives in Lille, France. He stages interventions in public spaces and in galleries and theaters.

He has performed extensively on the festival circuit, at prestigious venues and events.

Cohen has a very unique and individual way of performing art perfected since 1990s.

He starts by transforming his body by wearing costumes, his usage of make-up can surely be described as extraordinary and exaggerated. The artist transforms fake eyelashes, jewelry of all kinds, glitter and even the star of David, a symbol of his Jewish heritage, into masks and costumes that often let him appear surreal, thus marking the difference between the artist and his audience.

His costumes, often exposing wide parts of his body, can be described as membranes implying elements of a 'female' appearance and also as a counteraction of his male body.

Phallic symbols such as dildos and also his own genitals play a central role in some of Cohen’s performances. The artist himself explained in an interview that he used his penis, because “[…] it´s me. Everything about me is inscribed in my penis - white, Jewish, male, gay. It´s about identity, it´s not about fucking”.

The interview was uploaded on the internet platform Youtube on March 11, 2014, and refers to a piece performed by the artist in Paris in 2013 for which he was later charged guilty for sexual exhibitionism.

‘ I don’t actually know what the fuck performance art is, yet I’m brilliant at it. Does this mean that I’m a fraud. No! It simply proves that performance art is not a practice informed by theory … and that I’m honest and a little vain.
The vanity (read self-respect) is what I harness to let myself get vulnerable, get naked in public, get shamed. My form of performance art comes from a place I’ve never been to before, each time. It’s an attempt to understand something in the process of doing it. It’s about letting you see the work as I am making it. That takes a lot of trust for me as an artist.
When I am finished, it is finished. The execution, going through the doing, is the medium through which this art exists. Performance Art is not about the showing of skill or talent but about using honesty and risk through the body in an original way. ‘ - Stephen Cohen

Sex, sexuality, religion, gender and the questioning of it can repeatedly be found in Cohen's performances. Further, the artist focuses on his skin color, racism and politics. Death, as well as the decomposition of the body, may be found as elements in Cohen's performances. As previously mentioned, his work is multilayered.

What I love about Cohen’s work is how he challenges society. He take normal spaces and by expressing himself he creates dynamic binaries. Be it his whiteness, his flamboyance or not being heteronormative. He places himself in the direct line to be attacked and hurt. It takes great inner strength to do that.

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