BWW Review: Karen Finley's Defiant GRABBING PUSSY Attacks Patriarchal Sexual Oppression
One of the most exciting and important voices to emerge from the 1980s-90s American performance art movement, Karen Finley might be regarded as one of the country's most noted censored artists.
As one of the four 1990 NEA grant recipients whose funding was revoked at the insistence of a faction led by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms - whose description of her performance piece "We Keep Our Victims Ready" reduced it to the action of a naked Finley smearing chocolate sauce over her body, ignoring the literary content of her monologue about smothering patriarchy the symbolic gesture was a part of - Finley's name will forever be associated with a United States Supreme Court case that not only prompted discussions of the definition of art, but of the definition of decency.
Discussions of decency have made a comeback in the past two years, especially prompted by an audio recording of Donald Trump that surfaced during his presidential candidacy. Karen Finley's new book of prose and poetry, Grabbing Pussy, takes its title from that infamous episode, with each piece being a reaction to an event or quote, not only involving the current president but other powerful men and their abusive sexual obsessions.
While Finley's words have a sharp, rhythmic pulse that sparks off the page, audiences may also hear them from the author herself, in a limited run presentation at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Reading her work while standing before a music stand, she's surrounded by a stage full of potted flowers and backed up by silent videos that frequently display rose and tulip petals opening up to blossom.
She commences with the title piece, which begins by contrasting its harsh words with soft, romanticized actions.
Grabbing pussy has the consequences of digging deep into the interior
Clutching canal of wetness
The folding petals of wonderment that enclose onto the unseen
But they eventually evolve into Trumpian crassness.
Let me grab pussy
Grabbing childlike hands, fingers into cookie jars
Cold pizza go grab a slice
A steak well done with ketchup
Grabber Grabber Grab her
Her furious response to the accusations against Harvey Weinstein is particularly focused on the enablers who perpetuate a Hollywood rape culture for as long as the rapists support progressive values.
No one stopped him
No one from the company
No one from the board
Too much money
To be made
Not too bad
Put up with it
Sign a Nondisclosure clause
While he's giving money to a liberal cause.
"It's My Body" is a furious battle cry demanded with pounding intensity.
This body is mine
You will not jail me
You will not own my body
I will not be punished
Bodies and destiny
A lengthy prose piece "Solstice and I've Seen This Before" points out how we keep struggling against newer versions of the same oppressors. When this reviewer attended, Finley received an audible shocked reaction from the audience by saying, "Reagan invented the phrase 'I don't care do U' when it came to the AIDS crisis. Melania found Nancy's jacket left in some closet."
There's a sustained sense of immediacy to Finley's work. While some have described the upswing in protests against the Trump administration as unproductive displays of anger, Finley's outrage is a call for action.
You have resisted before
You have marched before
You have delivered before
You have the energy
You have the purpose
We know what to do