“I use humor, sexuality and rage to push back against the policing and politicization of women’s bodies.”
Sara Fox’s exhibition at Erin Cluley Projects in Dallas is my first foray back into art viewing since my return from the Venice Biennale a few weeks ago, with my head overflowing from an over-indulgence of art. My first impression is that Fox’s work would fit in beautifully with Biennale curator Cecilia Alemani’s vision. Inspired by Surrealist artist Leonara Carrington’s children’s book The Milk of Dreams, the global exhibition in Venice features many artists whose work incorporates mythical, hybrid creatures who respond to current realities while imagining utopic new worlds.
Fox creates corporeal hybrid creatures who enact universal themes of life — love, loss, rebellion, and sex. Her show at Cluley Projects includes exquisitely detailed wax crayon drawings of her characters. Faun depicts a young androgynous goat/human creature who is enveloped by forest foliage. Vines sway into the form of his/their body while caressing his/their legs and buttocks. Six pairs of eyes peer through the tangled growth. The eyes appear to be staring at me — the viewer, rather than the faun. The faun is a symbol of fertility and peace, full of fun and merriment. However, in Fox’s drawing, he/they is an object of desire. The eyes are watching, perhaps as a symbol of moral conscious or pervading hegemonic surveillance.
My two other favorite drawings feature Bad Bunny, the star of the show. Both Crop Dusting the Patriarchy and Pissing in a Cowboy Hat are direct responses to the abortion law passed in Texas last year, which restricted women’s access to safe medical abortions. Invoking the Texas vernacular, these subversive drawings just “bless my heart.” The message is particularly salient now given the uncertainty of Roe vs. Wade’s future.
The exhibition’s headliner, Bad Bunny Gets Lucky, is a seven-minute video featuring two paper-mâché marionettes sculpted by Fox. I visited her San Antonio studio two years ago where she first introduced me to Bad Bunny and her companions; the artist created them after taking a puppet-making workshop. This video is the second in a series of Bad Bunny puppet shows, and was commissioned by the McNay Museum in San Antonio for an exhibition with seven other San Antonio artists.
Just weeks before the scheduled opening at the McNay this spring, the museum asked Fox to re-edit the video, eliminating the sex scene. The artist refused, however, and offered other installation possibilities, including a curtained-off area with warning signs of explicit content. Ultimately, her work was not included in the show and five of the seven other artists pulled out of the exhibit in solidarity with Fox. This result is perplexing, given that the curators asked her to create another puppet show after viewing the first Bad Bunny video which addresses addiction and depicts a naked, twerking bunny who gets black out drunk.
I watched the video twice, trying to determine what about it was so abject as to cause censorship. It would not receive a G rating, but much of contemporary art is geared towards an adult audience. In the opening scene, Bad Bunny is on the Bumble dating app swiping through her phone. She swipes over a couple of men, settling on Wolf as her intended hook-up for the night. The two have a date in a restaurant, where Bad Bunny leaps onto the table and devours Wolf’s bloody steak. The next scene depicts a very tame simulated sex scene in which Bad Bunny bites Wolf post-coitus, and he falls to the ground bleeding silver. Interspersed within the puppet scenes are jump cuts to the artist dressed as the bunny, wearing a mask and gloves, licking the steak’s blood and later smearing Wolf’s silver blood on her mouth.
Pregnant with subversive humor, the video examines female desire. Bunny and Wolf communicate through sounds — hiccups, sighs of pleasure, howling, and laughing, evoking animalistic fervor. Bad Bunny’s character looks like she’s had a hard life, like she struggles with addiction — alcohol, tobacco, and perhaps meth. Wolf looks like a player who spends a lot of time in front of a mirror. But this is the reality of our nation: just look at stats on opioid and alcohol addiction in our country. One only has to watch a few episodes of Euphoria on HBO Max to see what is normalized in youth culture today.
Does the video offend the hegemony, because Bad Bunny is not a dumb bunny, but instead takes control over her own desire and pleasure? Does it offend due to the suggestive sexual overtones of the artist performing for the camera, thus rupturing the illusion of the traditional fairy tale narrative where the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood?
Fox’s work is prescient, not only given the socio-political climate in Texas, but in our nation. Women’s rights are being stripped away, and I fear the world of the Handmaid’s Tale might be closer to our present than we think. The message of granting all people in society equal access to economic freedom and other basic human rights from Margaret Atwood’s book is one that we can also learn from Bad Bunny.
Bad Bunny Gets Lucky is on view at Cluley Projects through May 28, 2022