Chicken dance by South African Jewish artist ruffles French feathers

By Daniel Easterman, May 8, 2014

A South African artist was found guilty of “sexual exhibitionism” by a Paris court after he danced in public with a live cockerel attached to his penis.

The court was not able to hand down any fine or punishment to 51-year-old Steven Cohen as no formal complaint was made against him by onlookers — which included a group of nuns — and he did not engage in any public sexual acts.

Only a few minutes into the performance, the French police intervened and arrested Mr Cohen.

In addition to the chicken tied to his genitalia, he was described as having worn an extravagant feathered costume featuring a headdress made from a stuffed pheasant.

Mr Cohen told French newspaper Le Figaro that the dance was an artistic response to increasing antisemitism and homophobia in the world.

“In showing the most intimate part of me, I’m saying: I’m male, I’m Jewish, I’m queer, I’m white,” he said.

Mr Cohen criticised the French authorities and the judicial system over its decision to convict him.

“I’m frustrated because it’s almost like being found guilty but not being punished,” he said.

“It’s like saying, ‘We are right but we are not going to do anything to you,’ which for me is a double injustice.

“If I’m found guilty I will see it as a failure of French justice,” he said, adding that the real victim was ‘art’ itself.

The artist has a long history of putting on colourful and shocking public performances, often with a strong social and political subtext.

One of his most famous was in 2001 when he was filmed wearing an illuminated chandelier tutu while speaking to residents of a squatter community near Johannesburg as their camp was being demolished.

Mr Cohen, who has lived in France for ten years, was also arrested last September for a similar performance — this time with a rooster tied by a ribbon to his penis.

He explained that the rooster was chosen on both occasions as the bird is the national emblem of France.

Last updated: 6:45pm, May 8 2014