When it comes to vagina art, do you feel uncomfortable when you hear the word VAGINA? You might be surprised, but the word is commonly avoided in conversation, according to many surveys. What about pussy, cunt, fanny, clunge, muff, twat, honeypot? Also, according to many surveys, men feel more comfortable to use vulgar slang words for vagina, while women tend not to talk about vagina with men. Why is that so? Many experts argue that vagina is a full of secrets (both metaphorically and physically), and that people, in general, are confused about vagina’s anatomy (while there are more knowledge on penis, and for that matter phallic art). Anyway, when we speak about vagina and art, the tubular part of the female genital tract has always been an inspiration for artists. However, vagina was used and represented in two opposite contexts: the first one celebrates vagina as a channel to deliver a newborn (origin of the world); the second one places vagina as a sexual “object” (mostly within erotic art). Still, a whole bodies of works have been created that can be labeled as vagina art.
Vagina is usually being compared with penis. We can often hear that genitalia of both women and men operate as yin and yang (yin and yang describes how opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world). While boys and men are taught from childhood to touch and hold their penises, girls are often taught that they should not touch their own genitals, as if there is harm in doing so. As a consequence, vagina is more mysterious, mystical, full of secrets – something that inspired many artists to investigate. In Chinese philosophy, yin (often attributed to vagina) is slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive, while yang (often attributed to penis) is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive. These yin/yang comparison of vagina/penis usually associates our thoughts with sex – vagina as a passive and wet, and penis as hard and aggressive (penetration). Although the subject of our article is vagina art, we had to make this vagina/penis comparison, since there are many differences between vagina art and phallic art.
Vagina art can be defined as every artistic representation of vagina. So, it’s not important if we talk about photography, paintings, drawings, performance or conceptual art – as long as vagina is the main subject of the artwork, we can talk about vagina art. It is interesting to mention that vagina art (as well as phallic art) exists since ancient times. Some of the first pieces of vagina art were created in ancient Indian states, where the local people celebrated Yoni - the Hindu Divine Mother. In this culture, vagina was often used as a representation of the divinity. There is no historical period where vagina art was ignored. But, the spirit of time, as well as the dominant avant-garde art movements determinates how vagina will be presented. For example, with the rise of feminist art and thought in the 20th Century, and with the emergences of performance and conceptual art, we could say that most vagina art we see today are part of these movements and ideas.
Feminism has influenced vagina art a lot. One could assume that feminists would usually be against the pure and clear representation of vaginas. But, it’s not the case at all. Feminist artists and art that fought for women's rights saw the use of vagina as a subject of artworks. Their aim is to deconstruct the dominant narrative on vagina having only sexual connotations, further dismantling highly patriarchal nature of contemporary art. And, indeed, many artworks from the field of vagina art demonstrate how representation of vagina within different contexts “explain” the position of women in contemporary society. For example, in her most famous piece, Carolee Schneemann, a pioneer of feminist performance art, stood naked on a table, painted her body with mud, and slowly pulled a paper scroll out of her vagina as she started to read from it. Similarly, Hannah Wilke (first generation feminist artist) fashioned kneaded erasers into vaginal forms, using them in various pieces, including this collage where they seem to take over the venerable Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. During her performances, Marina Abramovic is often completely naked, although she is focused more on her body as a whole, rather on vagina.
Vagina art has very high political and cultural significance, particularly when it comes to feminism and feminist art movement. Related to this, Deborah de Robertis has given her own view of the famous and controversial painting by a French artist Gustave Courbet, L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World, the detail of which is proudly occupying the space of our featured image). On May 29th, 2014 she posed below the painting in the Parisian Musée D’Orsay, wearing a gold sequin dress and sitting quietly, presenting her vagina to the viewers. What did this replication of the original mean? Robertis has explained that her act was not impulsive, but thought through thoroughly. She claims that her performance was an answer to the voyeuristic approach to the depictions of the female body in art. We are all perfectly comfortable looking at the painting yet when the picture comes to life, we feel awkward and embarrassed, we tend to look away as if we are seeing something unnatural. Robertis’ message is perhaps uncomfortable to many, but sadly, true. People tend to look at women as if they were objects, sexism is ever-present in our society, and the naked female form is used as a means of selling products. What they fail to realize is that women are very real, they are human, and their bodies are not something that should be loved just when it’s perfect. Especially when it comes to vaginas. It is perfectly normal for some people to view Courbet’s painting and appreciate the beauty of it, yet when they see a vagina that isn’t completely smooth they look away in disgust and mark it’s “owner” as unclean, or as someone who is desperate.
OK, it’s logical that vagina art is highly present in feminist art movement. On the other hand, it’s also very present within erotic art. If we only take a look at art of erotic paintings of Andrew Valko or the taboos of Noritoshi Hirakawa, we will see that vagina is represented a lot within erotic art. Still, vagina art is a broader term from erotica – as we mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are a number of vagina art examples that are part of other art movements. The very fact that vagina is clearly represented in a piece of art does not necessarily mean it’s about erotica. Erotica only represent vagina, without posing any questions or doubts. Finally, let us not forget – being an active artist whose work may be labeled as vagina art can be dangerous as well. For example, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi created and uploaded a 3D scan of her vagina that subsequently got her arrested, twice.
Featured Images: Gustave Courbet - The Origin of the World, detail; Mickalene Thomas - Origin of the Universe, detail (courtesy of sharkbiting.blogspot.rs); Vanessa Beecroft (courtesy of creasaurio.com ).All Images used for illustrative purposes.