project image
Jana Astanov, Katharine T. Jacobs, Courtney Frances Fallon

first performed on August 25, 2018
Local Project Art Space, Queens, NY
performed once in 2018


Brooklyn, NY


I earnestly wanted my “Freak Show Act” to be sickening, better than Ripley’s. The result was my most personal work to date.

A common freak show trope is the exploitation of a disability or congenital anomaly. I’m physically healthy but I have post-traumatic stress disorder following almost two decades of sexual harassment, assault, and rape including intimate partner abuse. I’ve also been subjected to revenge from scorned suitors/assailants ranging from verbal abuse and physical threats to ostracism. So even if I’m able to protect myself, I’m not safe from blowback. For over fifteen years and until recently, I designed my entire life around avoiding unwanted sexual advances. I cut off my hair, gained weight, stopped bathing regularly, dressed modestly, eschewed makeup and tried to police my speech and behavior to never unintentionally entice, but I’ve always presented as female and so I’ve never enjoyed full personhood.

My gender is a congenital curse and misogyny deforms the lives of all women. I chose to represent this visually and because it is inborn, I felt it should look like something naturally occurring. This attracted me to symmetrical animal markings like butterfly wings.

Fascinated by bioluminescent phytoplankton and fungi, I chose to mark my body with invisible dark light ink. I begin the performance fully clothed in normal light and introduce my story without revealing what makes me a freak. The room is suddenly in darkness and after a few moments the black lights go on, making the grotesque markings on my nude body burst into sight. My mouth appears sewn shut with three crude stitches, my eyes have been covered, and there are Xs on my knees marking where I’m preferred to be.

Many insects and plants protect themselves by displaying warning colors which communicate they’re poisonous or distasteful. Instead of dissuading predators, my body betrays me by enticing attackers. Handprints act as guides encouraging men to fondle my breasts, touch my ass, or grab me by the pussy. I also included targets on the side of my rib cage for the wandering hands of “respectable” men.

My secret revealed, I then share my history of sexual trauma.