In Cut Piece, an early piece of feminist art first staged in 1964, Yoko Ono knelt on the ground and laid down a pair of scissors. The audience were invited to come forward and cut off any piece of her clothing. It started politely but became more and more threatening as her clothes were reduced to rags and she kneeled in her underwear.
Gender is addressed directly in this piece because Ono is becoming a sexual object. She does not talk or move much throughout “Cut Piece,” causing her to become an object rather than a subject with a say about what is being done to her.By allowing others to act on her as if she was an object, she depicts a woman’s social place and power as lower than that of a man’s, especially since the person who went so far as to cut her bra strap was a man.
The intimate encounter between the artist and the audience becomes a symbol of (female) passivity and vulnerability, while the latent potential for sexist and racist violence and for a destructive desire becomes increasingly apparent.
© Harriet Grace Abbott, all rights reserved