Accessibility links

French Court Convicts South African Artist of Indecent Exposure

  • Zlatica Hoke

A French court has convicted South African performance artist Steven Cohen of indecent exposure during an appearance he made in central Paris last year. The court imposed no penalty on the controversial artist.

Cohen creates flamboyant costumes and makeup for his performances at his home in the northern French city of Lille.

"In 20 years I must have made a hundred costumes. Each costume is a work. For me, it’s important what I put on, but it's important what I take off," said Cohen.

It's the taking off that gets the 51-year-old artist in trouble. Before his arrest last fall in Paris, he also was accused of indecent exposure in New York, Japan and in his native South Africa. He says it is part of his artwork, which explores the issues of outsider identity, death and sexuality, using human body, sculpture and disguise. Cohen's work has been described as both glamorous and monstrous.

"Shocking is the first level we break through to get to understanding what is underneath the appearance of things. For me it's about staying out of the system, rather then breaking into and taking it over," said Cohen.

Last September, Cohen stepped out of a car near France's most famous landmark, dressed in high-heeled platform shoes and long red gloves, and a rooster tied to his body. That's what French authorities found objectionable.

The artist says he is frustrated that he was not allowed to finish his performance. He also finds his conviction without penalty particularly offensive.

But, Cohen said, this will not deter him.

"I don't like to say what I'm going to do next because I like to surprise myself," said Cohen.

After 150 performances, Cohen says he still has new ground to explore, but it may not be in France.