Dusting The Mae West Memorial Library

Christine Kennedy


Working Note

'Dusting The Mae West Memorial Library' explores a small incident from the life of a twentieth century movie icon as a site of resistance. In 1927, Mae West served a short sentence in a women's correctional facility after being charged with violating public decency with her play Sex. The life stories of her fellow inmates (prostitutes, drug addicts, robbers and shoplifters) prompted her to write an article about them on her release. She donated her fee so that a prison library could be founded for the women.

Mae West's decision, at a crucial point in her career as a professional woman, to take up the cause of some of the most oppressed and neglected members of society exemplifies a style of militant resistance to social injustice. Mae West recognised that society's repressive hypocrisy about the interrelation of women's economic and sexual lives was a fault line where resistance to that hypocrisy could be mounted. The sites of her resistance were her own body and permitted language about female sexuality. Her special form of poetic language communicated with mass audiences all over the world - her aphorisms were even translated into Cantonese. Sexuality was exploited as a form of textual subsidence.

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Bio: Christine Kennedy is a writer and artist based in Sheffield (UK). Her recent publications include contributions to In Place Of An Object (CFAR/Aldgate Press, 2000) and RSE 4pack No 4: Renga+ (Reality Street Editions, 2002); and the solo chapbook Possessions (The Cherry On The Top Press, 2003). Her most recent exhibit was appearing after death: muslin outer form for Katie King, in the group show 10x10x10, curated by UTK at Bloc Studios, Sheffield (2003).

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