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. He is also an extraordinary crafter of objects, ranging from the sculptural assemblages that form his costumes to the silkscreened canvases and furniture of his early career. His work invariably draws attention to that which is marginalised in society, starting with his own identity as a gay, Jewish 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 November 2008; at Les Antipodes festival in Brest, the Holland Festival in Amsterdam and Queer up North in Manchester in 2009; and the Théâtre d'Orléans and the Centre Chorégraphique National in Montpellier, France, in 2010.
Cohen writes that: “Artists have always painted the social concerns of their time, and by my moving in a chandelier-tutu through a squatter camp being demolished … and filming it … that’s what I’m doing too, a digital painting of a social reality, half beautifully imagined, half horribly real - where Hollywood glamour meets concentration camp horror. I am trying to shed light on what is seldom seen, by creating amid destruction.”