Thoughts on “Meat Joy”

Carolee Schneemann’s performance art piece, “Meat Joy,” features three women and three men, joyously moshing together along with various meats, such as chicken and fish. While I would not consider feminism to be the main point of this performance, an underlying statement with regard to gender can be noted.

Among other things, it seems that the performance is a representation of the beauty of life and death, as shown by the very organic movements of the participants and the parts of the performance when the movement seems to halt. The meat represents death, but not in a dark manner; rather, it shows that death is a natural part of life, which is why the participants react to it with joy. Viewing this piece through a feminist lens, however, reveals a completely different meaning to the piece. In an interview, Heide Hatry described how women can often be complacent in the reality of their oppression, in which the lifeless meat would be a symbolic metaphor for the way they have been “processed” by society, and the blissful reactions on the women’s faces implies that they have been trained to ignore this fact. Hatry also alludes to the commonly-held idea that women are treated “like meat,” meaning they are treated as nothing more than a product made for male consumption. Despite there being an equal number of women as compared to men in this performance piece, the movements present give off a very sexual vibe which might correlate with this.

My first and final impression of this piece was that it was a representation of nature and human life; however, if being analyzed through a feminist lens, distinctions and symbols that correlate with this can be observed as well. Art, especially art in this form, is very subjective, and often does not have a specific singular meaning.

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