Karen Finley / We Keep Our Victims Ready

Sushi Performance & Visual Art 1989

Finley and three other solo performers became known as the NEA Four when the National Endowment for the Arts yielded to political pressure and, in an unprecedented reaction, denied grants to the artists despite their being endorsed by the NEA recommendation panel. The now infamous images of Finley sprinkling heart-shaped candies, alfalfa sprouts, and tinsel on her chocolate-covered body are only a small passage within a longer piece entitled We Keep Our Victims Ready, of which Finley performed a first version in 1989 at Sushi Gallery in San Diego. Mocking what women are supposed to be—“delectable sweeties”—she screams: “SMEAR CHOCOLATE ALL OVER BODY UNTIL YOU ARE A HUMAN SHIT—EAT SUZY Q’s, CHOCOLATE-COVERED CHERRIES…” Finley says she intended her work as an aggressive attack against misogyny, with chocolate serving as a potent symbol of the verbal and physical abuses women are subjected to. “When I smear chocolate on my body it is a symbol of women being treated like dirt…”

The impact of her politically-charged chocolate statement reverberates at the core of a debate that is still raging around the question of moral standards, their place in art and their authority.

(via ingridschaffner.com A Chocolate Art History.” Chocolate!, ed. Carin Kuoni. New York: Swiss Institute, 1995, pp. 21–42)

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