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Coco Fusco Visits Monmouth

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J.–Cuban-American interdisciplinary artist Coco Fusco visited Monmouth University’s Pollak Theater last week to give a presentation called “Observations of Predation in Humans,” during which she played a chimpanzee animal psychologist named Dr. Zira.
The main feature of this performance was Fusco’s character portrayal of Dr. Zira, the chimpanzee psychologist from the 1968 film, “Planet of the Apes.” Dr. Zira was a chimpanzee, but focused her work on the study of humans. In full costume and character, Fusco reflected the Zira’s interests in her portrayal and shared the “observations” on humans that she had gathered.
The performance began without the artist on stage at all, but rather a video introduction by post-human cultural theorist Donna Hathaway. Hathaway explained that Dr. Zira had been in hiding for the last two decades after escaping execution, during which time she observed human predation skills.
Upon the conclusion of this video, a voice escaped from the back of the auditorium. Fusco, in full costume, made her way to the front of the stage reciting a monologue. Her entrance was met with surprise by the audience as her realistic costume startled some. When she came to the podium, everyone could see just how much she resembled the original Dr. Zira from the film.

Photo courtesy of Peter Douma
Photo courtesy of Peter Douma

The costume was an important element of the exhibit to some attendees.
“I thought the costume was an interesting take. It really validated her commentary on humanity–or really lack thereof–even more,” said, Monica Santos, 21, a senior at Monmouth University who attended the event.
While remaining in character, she gave the perspective of an outsider looking in on human civilization, often comparing their practices to those of the animal kingdom. Violence, greed, hoarding, and predation were all concepts that Fusco touched upon.
For example, Fusco discussed the predatory nature of human beings–not only the predation of hunting and dominating other species, but also that between humans in work and social settings. The use of the chimp suit gave her a way to connect humans to animals, and comment on how humans retain an animal-like nature.
Other aspects of human society that Fusco covered were the hoarding of material objects, working in a cutthroat work environment, and even male dominance in society, including how alphas will take advantage of betas.
Fusco, being an interdisciplinary artist, combined her speech with digital graphics and movie clips. Although the focus of the exhibit was her being Dr. Zira, the aids added more visual stimulation to the hour-long presentation.
Even so, the connection and purpose of the presentation was not entirely clear to some. Santos in particular said that she had trouble understanding it at first and that it took a while to set in.
“The presentation, while a bit confusing in the beginning, opened up an array of interesting commentary on our current human society,” said Santos.
According to Monmouth University, Coco Fusco has been revered by the art world as a successful interdisciplinary artist and has received many art accolades from around the world. But her praise does not stop there. In the academic world, she was the 2014-2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Martin Luther King Visiting Scholar.
Fusco’s performance was part of Monmouth University’s Art Now Series. According to the University’s website, artists come to the campus’ very own Pollak Theater monthly to give performances. Often, these are free of charge, as was the case with “Observations of Predation in Humans.”