Coyote Satan Amerika: The Unspeakable Art & Performances of Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba
Leyba, Reverend Steven Johnson. San Francisco: Last Grasp, 2001. 178 pgs, trade paper, $29.95. ISBN: 0867195053.
The Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba is a self-identified Satanic Apache artist. He is an ordained minister of the Church of Satan, a Native American of Apache heritage, and the embodiment of the mythological trickster the Coyote. His art is a performative and constructive reaction against xianity/Christianity and its role in the American Holocaust and the residual rot of the American people. He aligns himself as an artist with the likes of Sue Coe, Stephen Kroninger, Lydia Lunch, Annie Sprinkle, and Edward Kienholz. His performances center on culturally predetermined constructions of violent transcendence of the flesh acted out in mutilation, sodomy, and S & M. "The human body is part of nature, and nature is the christian enemy" (116). Leyba's art centers around the taboo and sexualized areas and functions of the body, e.g., non-commercial sexuality involving shit, piss, cum, menstruation, as well as personalized politicized attacks against xianity, the American Holocaust, and korporate domination of everyday life.
On the canvas of the body, or its naughty parts, Leyba inscribes his influences and manifestos. He cites as a major influence in his work AIM's (American Indian Movement) 1960s and 1970s radical actions against the the law, as influential performance art, as well as the officially ignored history of the European-American Holocaust carried out against the people native to these United States. In addition to AIM, the philosophies of Nietszche, Dr. Anton LeVay (whom he refers to as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, like Nietszche in the 19th century), Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell inform his lifestyle and work, while his work also directly reflects an indebtedness to the historical avant-garde, specifically cited in Dada and Andre Breton.
Along with editorial commentary and interviews with H.R. Giger, William S. Burroughs, Poppy Z. Brite, Billy Warsoldier, and Susan Wright of N.O.W., Coyote Satan Amerika also comprises Leyba's five art-books: My Stinking Ass, Sex & Violence, Apache Means Enemy, M.A.I.M. My American Indian Movement, and Coyote Amerikan. Billy Soza Warsoldier, imprisoned AIM activist refers to Leyba's Coyote Amerikan as "post-postmodern black magic" (85). As with all of his performances and collage art, Leyba focuses on tabooed areas of the body, especially vaginas and assholes. Christianity has always demonized women, and Western culture has always priviledged the phallus, but why so much attention on the rosebud between the hindmost cheeks? It is the site of release of stinking death (the ultimate taboo), decay, and waste -- constructed subjects of ill repute. There is no subjective truth beyond what you discover or determine for yourself, the alternative is the path of the herd, the faithful believers of xianity and the official scripts of the Kapitalist Konsumer Kulture that tells you how to fulfill all your worldly and extra-worldly desires. "Wake up, Amerika and the United States of the World! The Reverend is Coyote (trickster) digging through your garbage cans and he is bringing back what you tried to throw away," declares Warsoldier in the introduction for Coyote Amerikan (85).
M.A.I.M. further articulates Leyba's organic manifestos, declaring his work to be "Personal, Symbolic, Literal, Metaphorical, Theoretical, Ideological, Sociopolitical, Spiritual, Physical and Artistically Satanical" (77). The connection with Satanism is far beyond mere explorations of the darker side of humanity, but it does begin there; his work is far from the typical heavy fodder of demons and tight leather pants. According to xian ideology, Native Americans were, and often still are, believed to be savages invoking the devil through witchcraft or black magic, in other words they were/are associated with Satan and Satanic practices. Leyba's spiritual and satirical appropriation of this absurd mythology is at once personally meaningful and scathingly critical of xianity's historical dominance, hyper-hypocritical violence, and crippling herd mentality. In Apache Means Enemy, Leyba's art continues his avant-garde exploits into Satanism, which he broadly defines as all non-standardized xian and/or corporate ideas, philosophies, sexualities, desires, lifestyles, and expressions.
Satanic Art is anything shocking that ignites reaction and ultimately thought. "Satanic is a label I give any art that can spark an emotion, a thought, a response....Satan is the archetypal rebel, the outsider....Satanism, Satanicalism, and Satanicism are always sociopolitical threats to the order of global media propaganda" (27). His Satanic Art Movement is 100% individual based -- individual decisions, actions, ritual, truths, etc.
In Poppy Z. Brite's introduction to his second book, Sex & Violence, she refers to him as a master of finding the beauty in the horror (19). Included in this piece are a number of his explicit manifestos in which he attacks the complacency of the masses trapped in a postmodern condition. "The Reel is Real" he proclaims in his "Actual Reality Manifesto" (21). Leyba's Satanic Art Movement calls for personal explorations of reality(ies), while eschewing the mindless acceptance propagated by xian ideology and corporate control of reality. Like Kathy Acker, he promotes positive and constructive explorations (artistic, imaginative) of one's own darker nature -- he does not promote blind criminality. As with most of his images, the ones in Sex & Violence depict bound, faceless, mutilated women as an indictment of xian and American culture's historical objectification and subsequent subjectification of all non-procreative sexuality and women. His work is an outcry of anger, pain, and self-reconstruction in a culture that is terrified of actual experience and true self-determination, a culture that aims to control and trivialize real life and real people. He explicitly blames xianity for destroying any positive images of women, and he sees this devastating trend continued in the decentered and fluid corporate rule. "The Church initially ruled like a dictatorship, the Corporation rules quietly and without visible leaders" (33). Yet he chides totalizing feminist ideologies of man-hating which he snidely refers to as self-sexism.
Leyba's first art-book, My Stinking Ass, confronts institutionalized censorship of art, life, and the imagination. Filled with Bosch-esque sexual landscapes including portraits of Anton LeVay (founder of the Church of Satan), horror film hacked-up bodies, violent fantasies, innards, and literally blood, shit, piss, and cum. He sexualizes and plays with all the Western taboos of the human body, exposing "FEAR OF BODY, FEAR OF SEX, FEAR OF THE OTHER" (18). He has been heralded as a practitioner of Sexpressionism, an artistic movement involving sex, horror, seduction, and the culturally predetermined grotesque. For some his most shocking project may involve the reclamation of the swastika, which is by no means something unique to his art, several artists and concerned people have been involved in this project for much longer and with much more limited focus. On the subject of the taboo symbol, which historically, prior to the Nazi's appropriation, it meant well being, luck and good fortune; as Leyba argues, "If anybody wants to talk about atrocities attributed to symbols, lets talk about the christian crucifix. Remember the American Holocaust!" (iii).
Let this book change your life. By the end of my journey with the Coyote, after spending several hours with his images, manifestos, and photos of extreme performances, all of them exploring taboo bodies, my body somehow feels more whole, more interconnected. I felt like I did after heeding the advice of Dr. Jack Morin in his book Anal Pleasure and Health (1998), in which he recommends spending quality time with your asshole. He suggests getting cozy with a mirror and exploring those areas of the body we are indoctrinated to disregard as filthy and unhealthy. Give yourself over to the ideology of pleasure and breaking taboos, let yourself feel whole instead of the culturally proscribed fractured body.
Steven Leyba's Coyote Satan Amerika: The Unspeakable Art & Performances of Reverend Steven Johnson Leyba