Cut Piece: The Art of Yoko Ono and the Law of Rape in the United States
Law & Literature Journal , Forthcoming
30 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2020
Date Written: April 21, 2020
In 1964, Yoko Ono performed Cut Piece in New York’s Carnegie Hall. This performance art involved Ono sitting on a bare wood stage wearing dark stockings, a dress, and a cardigan. She sat still while largely white male and female members of the audience approached her and one by one cut off a piece of her clothing with a pair of scissors. In the years since Cut Piece was performed, it has attained a nearly mythic quality among feminist art historians; while Ono herself has not always embraced Cut Piece's illumination of sexual and racial violence, many art critics have recognized its capacity to express important aspects of sexual and racial violation that go unrecognized in legal and civil discourse.
In this paper, I limn Cut Piece's relevance to a gendered and raced problem that law often confronts when a woman has experienced a sexual violation, but did not resist, did not complain during or afterwards, appears to have "invited it," and otherwise does not conform to the stereotype of what Susan Estrich has described as a "real rape" victim. I study Cut Piece in relationship to mainstream legal responses to sexual violation that occurs in this context, as well as feminist and intersectional and anti-essentialist approaches. I also examine the important relationship that exists between law, art, and feminist legal theory. In the end, I conclude that Cut Piece is resonant with intersectional, anti-essentialist, and radical feminist approaches to sexual violations that exhibit Cut Piece's complex dynamics: While the law does not now recognize these violations as illegal, these theories and Cut Piece together offer a new pathway toward understanding the connections between race and sexual violation.
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