Talk with Sonja Lau: Leaving the Story as we know it: on Criminal Cases and "Other Crimes" in the courtroom

27 August 2023, 14:00

Yvonne Chevallier during her trial for the murder of her Cabinet Minister husband Pierre Chevallier. Photo by Nat Farbman/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock
Sonja Lau, Credit: Christina Dimitriadis

On the last day of Jordan Strafer’s exhibition, curator and writer Sonja Lau gives a talk at Index, taking LOOPHOLE as the starting point for a reading of the courtroom, its power structures and gender asymmetries.

With Jordan Strafer’s work LOOPHOLE as a point of departure, Sonja Lau revisits a number of historical and more recent court cases, in which ”criminal“ women played a crucial role. A trial – as Lau defines in this talk – is a spatial and rhetorical setting of two accounts in collision: a place where two antagonistic ”stories“ fight for their respective survival. In this context, female delinquency and female criminality add another level of conflict – as the subject in question “already left” her traditional role within the narrative (of gender), e.g. by not performing the role of victim, but the role of perpetrator, and thus has no narrative within the court room that can be defended or won over the other. In this talk, Lau draws attention to this phenomenon of “leaving the story” from a feminist perspective, by looking at court cases in which women “betrayed” their official gender role, leading to a somewhat “first crime” committed at the court room, with tangible consequences on the final judgement and sentence.

What may first look like an antithesis to Strafer’s work – a critique of gender within the court room, an analysis of the distribution of guilt between the sexes – eventually merges on the very same concern: Is the court room, as we know it, at all compatible with the discussion of justice between the sexes? What “other crimes” are committed here, or, even what “other virtues”?

Sonja Lau is a curator and writer based in Berlin and Istanbul whose work focuses on the relationship between art, history, and power; on gender, and on the legal system. Her essays and art criticism have appeared at Texte zur Kunst, Stedelijk Research Journal, and Cabinet Magazine amongst others. In 2022, she was a fellow of the Tarabya Cultural Academy, Istanbul; her research there led, most recently, to the exhibition “Guilty, guilty, guilty! Towards a Feminist Criminology,” at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien, Berlin (2022/2023).