On warm September mornings, Trocadero Square in Paris attracts hordes of tourists with its promise of sun and a view to the Eiffel Tower. But Gustave Eiffel’s “Iron Lady” was utterly eclipsed Tuesday morning by Steven Cohen, a Jewish modern dance artist from South Africa who showed up at the square wearing only a girdle and 8-inch heels and toting a live rooster tied with a leash to his penis. (Click on that link for a photo you won’t soon forget.)
A few minutes — and countless camera clicks — later, police arrested Cohen, 51, for indecent exposure. He was released that evening but will have to explain his actions to a judge later this year.
Cohen’s lawyer told the daily Metro that Cohen “wanted to express his personal situation, in which he divides his life between two countries, his native South Africa and France, where he currently lives,” adding: “His arrest is disgraceful: France is silencing its artists.”
The lawyer did not say how the bird helped illustrate Cohen’s situation or whether he was referencing the Jewish custom of using a chicken to atone for past sins ahead of Yom Kippur. Metro did say, however, that the rooster’s name was Frank.
No stranger to the inside of a police car, Cohen – who has defined himself as a “Jewish gay monster” in interviews — has been routinely arrested in France for his nude public performances. One such performance took place at Lyon’s Holocaust memorial and at Ground Zero in New York.
Last year Cohen performed at Avignon wearing nothing but anvil-shaped shoes, a girdle, yellow body paint and a Star of David painted on his forehead. Rosita Boisseau, a writer for Le Monde’s art section, interpreted Cohen’s arrests and performances featuring uncomfortable fashion accessories as attempts to “design his own victimhood.”
“A lot of what I do is to protest Fascism,” Cohen said earlier this year in response to a question about his use of Jewish symbols. “I was born in South Africa because my parents fled Fascism. They would have been exterminated had they stayed.”