Terrorist pussy superstar: Liad Hussein Kantorowicz

Liad Hussein Kantorowicz is a performance artist, activist, and perpetual migrant.  She uses the body – including currently, ‘Pussy’, a performance focussing on the pussy –  to transgress the boundaries of the public space, and to call into question the public‘s ‘democratic’ limitations. 

Her first short film NO DEMOCRACY HERE premiered at CPH:DOX and is currently touring film festivals around the world. It will be shown at UNCENSORED in the UK in May where she will also perform ‘Pussy’.  Her first EP with her musical partner Kalpour will be released later this year. Liad is a spokesperson for sex workers’ rights and a founder of a Berlin’s peer project for migrant sex workers at Hydra

The Demented Goddess (DG): Liad, quite a lot of your recent art – performances ‘Pussy’ and ‘Unidentified’ and ‘Terrorist Superstars’ – satirically meshes the naked body with a world that is hostile to women and minorities, whether Palestinian, black or queer. How does getting out your breasts and cunt help you to comment on injustice?

First of all, I use my entire body as a tool with which to critique and combat injustice, not just those body parts that social media deems worthy of censoring. Some years ago I started a workshop series pertaining to my artistic practice called Use your Body like a Weapon. This title answers your question. The workshop asks the participants to hone in on what makes us marginalized and reflect on how to transform it into a powerful resource while using the body. Our bodies make us marginalized – as Persons Of Colour (POCs), Palestinian, queer, trans and otherwise.

‘Terrorist Superstars’, photo by Marion Borriss

Essentially society uses our bodies to demonize us as outsiders and terrorists and abnormal, to silence us. My work demands to turn the tables and amend this situation, to use the vulnerability of the body to point at this injustice. At the same time – to use the body as the main tool and a site for power that we have to fight back and to take what‘s ours.

DG: Is it better to make people laugh or cry?

Israelis and Palestinians have a dark sense of humor, a product of the political realities we are born into, and as a result I also possess such a sense of humor, despite having lived in a self-created radical anarchist queer bubble during my time in my homeland.

Dark humour enables us to point at a shared sensation of agony, pain that is brought through socially specific situations of oppression and that is otherwise made invisible. We make fun of a political situation in which we feel helpless. Through doing so we empower each other. It’s a form of sassy critique. The ability to laugh about us experiencing darkness strengthens the bond between us. This is a feeling that i wish to convey in my art.

Photo by Aviv Victor.

Having said that, the forms my work take are multi-dimensional and certainly don‘t rely only on humor. But the reason that a lot of my art in recent times is so intimate is because I wish to recreate and share this laughter that’s created with my friends and political allies and what it gives us – empowerment and a feeling that we are bound to each other by sharing something strong. It enables the audience to delve deeper into the political questions i ask of them, and how those pertain to their own lives.

DG: For ‘No Democracy Here’, to be shown at the UNCENSORED festival, London and the Kurz Film Festival, Hamburg, this May and June, you filmed yourself walking men on a lead around Israel, in Tel Aviv and Be‘er Sheva, as a dominatrix. You ordered them to tongue images of Netanyahu. Your partners were to be used as chairs and submit their voting choice to you. In BDSM, the submissive partner gains erotic pleasure from submitting. Was there any pleasure in these dominations, or were you using sexuality as a metaphor for political power games?

BDSM, a sexual practice, is used in this project and film as an allegorical critique to bring on the question: how democratic is electoral democracy actually? Nonetheless, pleasure is something i strive for in any performance I do – it is a bodily practice after all, and it should be present since the topic is about sexual practices.

No Democracy Now, film still by Tamir Lederberg.

Perhaps the pleasure in the actions surrounding NO DEMOCRACY HERE occur at rather unusual places. It brings me pleasure to see common people in bear the burden of living under Netanyahu’s regime take out their frustration in public by ordering a Sub to humiliate Netanyahu by making out with his poster or to pee on a poster of another much hated politician. This intervention managed to subvert a repressive political reality, one that confines both Palestinians and Israelis, without a way out. There’s something unreal about my intervention. I’m trying see if i could challenge existing reality and intervene in ways that challenge it and make an entire public of people contesting existing political power relations by participating, if only for a limited time. This temporary liberation is incredibly pleasurable to me. pleasure is something that could be gotten in hindsight. I think that the filmed in 2013 (the film was edited 3 years later and is out now – DG), could not be done in public today following the sharp turn to the right in Israel.

So watching something now, that was created then, which future generations have to view as something that was once possible and should be a minimum-aspired political reality for the future – yes, that‘s pleasurable to me, albeit bitter sweet.

DG: You describe ‘Pussy’ as an ongoing performative research. Can you tell us what you do in terms of the performance and research?

I use my pussy to conduct both research and to perform. Ok, I’m exaggerating. This performance and research consider how we as women of all kinds are subjected to discrimination and confined to socially restricted and predetermined roles basically because we have pussies. So i‘m looking at ways in which we can use our bodies to form a resistance. I specifically tried to look at my biography where my own body defied such confinement and oppression or chose alternatives: from trying to get an abortion and putting my body through a state of exception and juxtaposing it with the state of exception of Palestine, where I was living, during the Second Intifada; to reflecting on how Israeli society forces women I know to have children to be used as demographic warfare, to comparing between my experiences in sex work and sex in the context of art work.

From ‘Pussy’. Photo by Graffiti Receptes.

Writing has always been a starting point for research for me, whether I write prose or lyrics for a song. From there i see how it affects my body, and conversely how the body and movement affect the text. While researching for this performance i gave myself the task of doing useless things with my pussy, things that stray away from the regular socially-set predispositions of the pussy. The most natural thing that came to me is to pull out things from my pussy, things that have no worth, and the performance contains a lot of that, in powerful, emotional but funny ways.

DG: While creating ‘Pussy’, you stated that women have been subjected to our pussies being centralized, whether through childbirth or being sex objects for hetero cultures. You suggest that we either form a resistance and centralize our pussies or decentralize the pussy. Are you serious? What would it mean to either centralize or decentralize our pussies?

I’m posing this question because it’s something that I deal with regularly in my work. I’m a performer who uses my body and sexuality to bring on complicated and sometimes heavy political issues. I could be considered, in certain limited circles, as a creator of thought-provoking controversial performances with intelligent, emotionally powerful topics. To the wider general public where the male gaze is dominant, I’m a naked chick on stage in front of an audience that‘s just happy to see my pussy for a cheap price. What should i do with this public? How should i speak to them?

“Where the male gaze is dominant…how should I speak to them?” Photo by Mariana Bartolo

My experience isn’t different than any feminist who wasn’t ashamed about asserting her body and voice into public space – but then her covered or uncovered body took precedence over her message because she’s a woman. In light of that – to centralize our pussies in resistance is to acknowledge the power that our bodies have, as symbols of womanhood, and to use them and incorporate them in our struggle for liberation.

Sex workers do that when they ask men to pay for what is de facto their economic autonomy. Or when nudity or sexual pleasure becomes a part of how we wage our feminist struggles. Or when we choose to delegate the role of our pussies to anything other a path to us women having and raising children. To decentralize our pussies is to think that the world isn’t ready to take us seriously if this is how we physically assert ourselves, so we’d decide to keep our bodies and pleasure to some extent seperate from our feminist struggles for equality.

Main photo: Tamir Lederberg

Liad’s first short film NO DEMOCRACY HERE is touring film festivals around the world this summer and on Friday 17th May at UNCENSORED, The Old Baths, London E9 (see our Bacchanalia page). Her first EP with her musical partner Kalpour will be released later this year.

Follow Liad Instagram @liadland

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