While Aileen Wournos, the alleged “female serial killer” who insists she killed in self-defense, sits on death row, Hollywood filmmakers appropriate her story. Meanwhile, in our perverse justice system the sexual assaults and murders of forty-five women in San Diego are discounted by police and given file code name NHI, No Humans Involved, because the victims are perceived as marginal: sex workers, informants, homeless or working class women.
The women in Critical Condition challenge abuse and invisibility with powerful literary and visual art. They put a spin on issues of women and violence by focusing on women won fight back, sometimes killing their abusers; women who control their own sexualities and challenge conventional ideas of sex; women who assert images of themselves in a cultural landscape where none appear; women who reframe personal histories that were meant to shame them into oblivion.
Critical Condition includes Carla Kirkwood’s autobiographical performance monologue about a girl, sexually abused by the men in her family, who becomes a feminist activist in the ‘70’s, and an artist in the ‘90’s. In impassioned poetry, Wanda Coleman takes a look at the embattled lives of African-Americans, particularly in Los Angeles. Sapphire’s searing poems about race and self-realization exposé the fallacy of the nuclear family and the vicious cycle of domestic violence. The Theory Girls’ performance script, “If You Were like the Heroine in a Country and Western song,” is both detailed expose and black comedy framing the relationship between Aileen Wuornos and Arlene Pralle (the born-again Christian who became enamored of Wuornos after her conviction) within the context to Hollywood’s fascination for women with guns.
Here, too, are panel discussions, taken from a conference at The Lab and San Francisco Camerawork, that focus on self-revelation and art, women who kill, and the question of race and gender in the media. There are over twenty-five pages of visual art, including the Women’s Work billboard campaign promoting public awareness of domestic violence, wit work by Barbara Kruger and Carrie Mae Weems.
Critical Condition shows women on the edge of violence, defending themselves, asserting public images that resist conventional ideas of powerlessness and victimization, and combating the dominant paradigm with irreverence and fierce commitment.