We Keep Our Victims Ready

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Artist: Karen Finley

Year: 1990

Date of Action: May 1990

Region: North America

Location: Los Angeles, California

Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Sexual/Gender Orientation

Medium: Performance Art

Confronting Bodies: The National Endowment for the Arts

Description of Artwork: In this piece of performance art, Karen Finley exposes her body and manifests many of the aspects of the human body that we, as a society, try so hard to ignore or hide. She wears nothing but undergarments and a red bandanna as she delivered a series of monologues about artistic, sexual, emotional and political abuse, and smeared a chocolate cake across her bare chest.

The Incident: A group which called itself the Traditional Values Coalition took issue with the piece and planned to protest the piece at one of its performances but did not follow through. There was a lot of excitement as well as controversy regarding the piece. Due to congressional debate and political dissent, John Frohnmayer, chief of the National Endowment for the Arts, decided to veto the grant intended for Finley.

Results of Incident: In 1991, there was a lawsuit against the National Endowment because the chairman had rejected four different performance artists' grants for fear of criticism from conservative media representatives and politicians. It was clear that Frohnmayer rejected these artists and prevented them from being successful for fear of negative public opinion. The four artists who were denied grants joined together to sue Frohnmayer.


'NEA Four' Grant Denial Questioned : Arts: ACLU claims transcripts indicate grants were denied on political, not artistic, grounds.

STAGE REVIEW : Finley Exposes Plenty in 'Victims' : The performance artist's 'We Keep Our Victims Ready' exhibits a kind of purposeful schizophrenia as it uncovers the nastiness we would rather sweep under the rug.