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Steven Cohen was born in 1962 in South Africa and lives in Lille, France. He is a performance artist who stages interventions in the public realm and in gallery/theatre spaces.
His work invariably draws attention to that which is marginalised in society, starting with his own identity as a gay, Jewish, white South African man. One of his best-known performances is Chandelier (2001/2), in which Cohen, dressed in vertiginous heels and an illuminated chandelier tutu, interacted with residents of a squatter camp in Newtown, Johannesburg, as it was in the process of being destroyed; the work exists as both live performance and video documentation of the public intervention. Chandelier was presented alongside Dancing Inside Out and Maid in South Africa at the Centre Pompidou in Paris as part of the Festival d’Automne in 2008; in 2009, Cohen premiered Golgotha at the Centre Pompidou as part of the same festival, and in 2011 The Cradle of Humankind.
Performances have taken place at venues and festivals including the Munich Opera Festival, Bavarian State Opera; the first Aichi Triennale, Japan; Festival Escena Contemporánea, Madrid; Danae festival, Milan; La Bâtie – the Festival of Geneva; C/U (Body Mind) Festival, Warsaw; Les Halles de Schaerbeek, Brussels; Festival les Anticodes, Brest, France; Oktoberdans festival, Bergen, Norway; Festival d’Avignon, France; and the National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa, among others.
Recent group exhibitions include Black Milk: Holocaust in Contemporary Art at the Museum for Contemporary Art, Roskilde, Denmark (2014); My Joburg at la Maison Rouge, Paris (2013); the 11th Havana Biennale (2012); Revolution vs Revolution at Beirut Art Centre, Lebanon (2012); No Fashion, Please: Photography between Gender and Lifestyle at the Vienna Kunsthalle (2011); ARS 11 at Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2011); and Dada South? at the South African National Gallery, Cape Town (2009-10). From 2003 to 2008 Cohen was an associated artist of the Ballet Atlantique/Régine Chopinot. In 2009 he took up residencies at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the Center for Performance Research in New York. In September 2013 Cohen’s ‘uninvited public intervention’ Coq/Cockat the Trocadéro in Paris resulted in his arrest on charges of ‘sexual exhibitionism’; a Paris court found him guilty, but imposed no penalty against the artist.