Nude Performance Artist Defends Herself Against Unauthorized Performances in Court

Artist Deborah de Robertis appeared in court in Paris on December 13, having been arrested for two nude performance art pieces staged without permission in local museums.

The first event took place in March at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, during a Bettina Rheims show. Clad in a red vinyl jacket, left open to reveal her breasts, de Robertis poured ketchup on her chest, kneeling in front of a photo of a similarly-attired Italian actress Monica Bellucci posing suggestively with the condiment.

Despite her arrest, the artist was back at it in September at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in response to an exhibition devoted to the Barbie doll, whose large breasts and tiny waist have long been widely criticized for their unrealistic proportions. De Robertis donned a long blonde wig and a plastic costume featuring breasts with articulated nipples and a dark thatch of fake pubic hair.

The work was meant to highlight the artificiality of Barbie’s image, as opposed to the body of a real woman.

“When I exhibit my body,” said the artist in a written statement translated by artnet News, “it’s not a private body anymore but a public body that reproduces a scene. My nudity is seen through the context of creation and image. I want my actions to be judged in the light of my work, my films, and my performances as an artist, whether I am naked or not.”

The artist was also arrested in January, for recreating Édouard Manet’s Olympia (1863) at the Musée d’Orsay. The Paris museum was the site of the 2014 de Robertis performance that first thrust her into the public spotlight, in which she exposed her vagina while sitting in front of Gustave Courbet‘s L’Origine du monde (Origin of the World), in mimicry of the infamous 1866 painting.

Museum security stopped a fourth 2016 performance, at the Musée Guimet’s Nobuyoshi Araki show. Araki is known for his photos of naked women in bondage. Inspired by these images, de Robertis, dressed in a transparent kimono, sat with watermelon between her legs, eating it while moaning loudly.

“Finding me guilty would be like censoring an image, an artistic representation of the female body. In that case, shouldn’t we also condemn museums for solicitation and exhibitionism?” de Robertis asked. “I am not saying that artists are above the law but I support that the act of creation is part of legislation and sometimes influences it in its own evolution.”

In the current court proceeding, de Robertis faces a fine of up to €2,000 ($2,130). Her next hearing is scheduled for February 1, 2017.


Deborah de Robertis’s statements were translated from the French by Audrey Fair.

By Sarah Cascone

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