Karen Finley Addresses AIDS Crisis in 'Written in Sand'

By Jon Sobel on Sep 24, 2014 01:48 PM EDT

Performance artist Karen Finley returns to the stage next month with a new show, Written in Sand, that compiles her writings during and about the emerging AIDS crisis between 1983 and 1994. Some of the work comes from her earlier shows staged during the era, while other pieces have never been published or performed before.

The show runs October 2 - 23 at Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York, a venue where she appeared last fall, as the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination approached, playing Jackie Kennedy in The Jackie Look.

Finley began provoking controversy decades ago, with performances labelled by some as "obscene" or "indecent." She became nationally known in the early 1990s when along with three other artists she had her National Endowment for the Arts grant withdrawn after objections from Senator Jesse Helms on grounds of "indecency." The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately resulted in the NEA discontinuing all grants to individual artists.

Finley's past shows include George and Martha (positing an affair between George Bush and Martha Stewart), The American Chestnut, A Certain Level of Denial, The Return of The Chocolate Smeared Woman, Shut Up and Love Me and Make Love.

In Written in Sand Finley recites works from her books about the AIDS crisis, interspersed with jazz multi-instrumentalist Paul Nebenzahl's performances of musical selections originally written or performed by musicians who died of AIDS or were active during the period.

Prior to a performance of the show at the University of Buffalo last year, Finley explained the genesis of her AIDS writings, saying: "I just felt so sorrowful and pained that so many close friends that I loved were dying around me, and I saw the way they were treated and ignored by their family and society."

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TagsKaren Finley, AIDS, Written in Sand, Baruch Performing Arts Center, Off-Broadway, NEA, National Endowment for the Arts

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