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Monday, April 11, 2011

Sins Invalid: Queer Disabled Performance Art that Inspires

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Maria Palacios
  • Maria Palacios
"Sexy crips!"

That exclamation was an act of reclamation at Z Space over the weekend in the form of Sins Invalid. For the uninitiated, "crips" is a term for people with disabilities. It's derived from "cripple," and (like "queer" and other derogatory terms) it's being used by some to celebrate what it once derided - in this case physical disability, deafness, blindness, and mental trauma, as well as alternative sexuality, nonwhite ethnicity, and people who, frankly, just want to kick some political ass.

Sins Invalid was not an ode to sentimental voyeurism. There was no feelgood air of "Look at those poor people, so strong in the face of adversity!" It was explicit. (There was talk of ejaculation, vaginas, and ecstatic masturbation.) It was shocking. (Topics covered included eugenics and abuse.) It was also moving, and we believe those who attended will be better people for it.

A number of pieces took sexuality head-on. Early in the show Maria R. Palacios performed "Undressing Love" from her wheelchair. She revealed her reality by telling of directing her lovers toward her breasts, in order to distract them from her legs, thighs, and knees that she never shows, as "some truths are meant to stay personal." But Sins Invalid was an opportunity to expose. In the second half of the show, Palacios did a striptease that revealed those hidden regions.

Ellery Russian - RICHARD DOWNING
  • Richard Downing
  • Ellery Russian
Ellery Russian performed "PenPals," an erotic letter dedicated to singer-songwriter and fellow crip Vic Chesnutt, who committed suicide in 2009. As her words came over speakers (Sins Invalid also had sign-language interpreters), Russian removed her prosthetic leg casings and layers of socks, slowly revealing uneven stubs ending below her knees. Reclining on a bed, she ritualistically bathed, oiled, and tenderly stroked her legs. In this act she was a Venus De Milo of a different kind, but no less sublime.
Leroy F. Moore Jr. is among the founders of Sins Invalid.
  • Leroy F. Moore Jr. is among the founders of Sins Invalid.
The piece that had me needing a handkerchief was "Domino Effects" with Leroy F. Moore Jr., who founded Sins Invalid five years ago with Patty Berne and Todd Herman. As a brown, queer man living with cerebral palsy, Moore is at the crux of Sins Invalid's purpose. Images of the Southern United States were mixed with those of men in bondage gear as Moore and Juba Kalamka played checkers. "Baby, does this always have to hurt this much?" Moore asked. "It doesn't have to hurt," Kalamka replied. The piece ended with the two men together in a pose that equally reflected a mother-and-child relationship or the best kind of love affair. Potentially maudlin, the piece was jolted back to life by Moore saying, "I'll be your freak. My chocolate nigger."

Not all the pieces were as well crafted. Some were much heavier on political messages than on artistic quality. Poetics are always risky, and a few of the pieces had a little too heavy a dash of PC. Nonetheless, the show was illuminated by humor and at times by pure, unadulterated talent.

Nomy Lamm - RICHARD DOWNING
  • Richard Downing
  • Nomy Lamm
Nomy Lamm appeared in "God Wrestler" with Alex Cafarelli, where after round one, Lamm shouted "Dayenu!" and removed her prosthetic leg. It was a strange sight to see two mustached women rolling around while an abandoned leg remained forlornly elsewhere on the stage. Strange and oddly beautiful. "Dayenu" is a Yiddish word meaning roughly, "It would have been enough." It is an expression of gratitude and abundance, as in, "It would have been enough to be rescued from the desert, but now we have been given so much more." Indeed.
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