MacArthur Fellow Mary Reid Kelley on Dismantling Sexual Taboos with Humor
Read the full text of the interview on Hyperallergic here.
In Mary Reid Kelley’s videos, bawdy characters, performed by the artist, bewitch with complex wordplay. Produced with Patrick Kelley, the videos are set inside a black-and-white world of bespoke props and costumes where ancient Greek mythology mingles with allusions to art history and popular culture alike. The cadence of the scripts, which are written in meter, slows down the spinning narratives, as they delve into gender iniquity and sexual taboos. Last month, Kelley was named a MacArthur Fellow for her cultural contributions, especially her cerebral commentary on women’s roles throughout history.
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Jacquelyn Gleisner: Your process begins with extensive research. While you were working on “You Make Me Iliad” (2010), you read accounts from soldiers and medical officers about prostitutes during World War I. In this film and others, you focus on untold stories of female trauma and working conditions for women. What is important to you about writing and narrating stories from these perspectives?
Mary Reid Kelley: Most World War I material is about the soldier experience, and is from their perspective, but there is significant scholarship about women workers. We know that women drove ambulances. We know that women worked in huge numbers in munitions factories. Women have been interviewed about their work in munitions and nursing. Yet there is an enormous difference between these women and the women who did sex work, about whom there’s almost nothing. We didn’t lose those stories through carelessness. They were suppressed. The primary suppressors were the women themselves because the personal consequences of telling that story would have been enormous.
Mary Reid Kelley: We’re Wallowing Here in Your Disco Tent with High Line Art (High Line Channel 14, 14th Street Passage, on the High Line at West 14th Street) continues through November 2.