Name: Torture Circus

Date:  1985 - 1995

Location:  North America

SubjectNudity , Other , Explicit Sexuality

MediumPerforming Art

Artist: Fakir Mussafar and other artists

Confronting Bodies: Ann Simonton, Media Watch

Date of Action: 1992

Specific Location: Santa Cruz, California

Description of Artwork: "Torture Circus", a performance piece by Fakir Musafar included a segment in which one female character attached white feathers to another female character's body to symbolize her transformation into a bird.

Description of Incident: Bulkhead Gallery's semi-annual performance series was thrown into controversy when feminist activist Ann Simonton contended that at least one performance piece in the series promoted violence against women. Simonton launched a campaign against the series by threatening boycotts of all local businesses that had supported it to move. Bulkhead Volunteer Director Wendy Chapkis called an effort to close the gallery down. Production costs and artists fees were entirely provided through local business sponsorship. In one demonstration, Simonton picketed and leafletted a sponsoring credit union. The controversy caused several depositors to withdraw their accounts. Bulkhead put together the series, called "Disturbing the Peace," in response to Persian Gulf War victory celebrations. The exhibit included the work of gay, lesbian, and bisexual artists who presented a variety of works. Fakir's piece, "Torture Circus," had been titled by Bulkhead and described in all press releases so that people would have a clear idea of what the work entailed before they came to see it.

Results of Incident: Chapkis responded to Simonton's campaign by calling a meeting of Bulkhead's sponsors to discuss the issues. She put together a videotape of highlights from the series to give sponsors a sense of the diversity of the programs. Chapkis also went on a local talk show and discussed the incident in the context of art censorship. Despite the threat of boycotts, all but one sponsor (who was, in fact, Simonton's husband) decided to continue backing Bulkhead, and the series played to sellout audiences.

Source: People for the American Way

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