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It’s Debatable : Artist Sasso Says ‘Our Dilemma’ Creates Controversy--and Dialogue

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Artist Connie Sasso became a sudden target of controversy in July when City Councilman Ted R. Morino decried one of her works--a storefront installation of sealed jars filled with honey and condoms and girded with rosaries--as “obscene, crude and sacrilegious.”

Because the piece was at the Santora Arts Complex--part of the downtown Artists’ Village, a recipient of city subsidies and public relations support--Morino called for a community review panel to monitor viewers’ complaints.

Even after the scheduled three-week installation of “Our Dilemma"--when it no longer was on view--a couple of dozen residents convened at the complex to pray and protest what they saw as a desecration of the Virgin Mary.

Speaking Monday at Rancho Santiago College, Sasso acknowledged that the combination of “sex and religion is always a hot button to press . . .

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“Everyone was so uptight about the condoms and rosaries that they missed the point,” she said. “I was trying to deal with issues of oppression in the Catholic Church [relating to] birth control and AIDS.”

Sasso, who is Catholic, said she got the idea for the piece during last year’s International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where the Vatican clashed with U.S. officials urging wider freedom of access to contraception and abortion.

She pointed out that no one seemed to notice the other components of “Our Dilemma”: a fur jacket and a transparent slip hanging above the 19 sealed jars. The clothing represented “the invisible woman,” she said, referring to women’s lack of input in the Church hierarchy.

A young man in the audience wanted to know whether artists shouldn’t be more considerate of people’s feelings. Sasso replied that her intention was “not just to anger someone but to have a dialogue.”

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She admitted that the outcry made her “very uncomfortable,” yet she conceded that “if you put your face out there, you’ve got to take the hits.”

A former dancer currently working on her master of fine arts degree at Cal State Fullerton, Sasso is assistant director of the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art and part-owner of the Sasso/Cribb Gallery at the Santora complex.

Showing slides of her other recent three-dimensional and installation pieces, she described her fascination with materials that convey movement (such as chiffon and honey) as a likely holdover from her dancing days.

Wire is another favorite, “holding things together, tight and suppressed,” she said. “It’s almost as beautiful to me as chiffon.”

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By “seducing” the viewer with colors and textures, she said, she hopes to have a captive audience for her “statements of rebellion and dissension about structures of power. . . . My inclination is to smack people in the face and go, ‘Look at . . . people who are suffering!’ ”

Several of her pieces about the oppression of women incorporate undergarments. In one of these works, a strapless bra filled with feathers is studded with a forest of gold-painted nails pointing outward.

“I wish I could strap it on and hug people,” Sasso said, prompting chiding murmurs from some in the audience.

Someone wanted to know why a small image of the Virgin Mary was affixed between the bra cups.

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“I think the Virgin could be looked at as a warrior,” Sasso replied. “I think she’s an icon for all of us.”


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