Ok, we have another little foray into the wider world of art for you tonight. Specifically, I wanted to bring your attention to an extraordinary work of art which I chanced across last year but which I was unable to fit into the blog; I'd like to put that right now. The art in question is a sculpture produced by British artist Jamie McCartney and entitled 'The Great Wall of Vagina'. Intriguing, yes? Well, let me explain more.
The Great Wall of Vagina is an exploration of women's relationships with their genitals. The concept grew from an original piece called Design A Vagina, which was a single panel of 40 vulva plaster casts made in 2008. McCartney realised that the sculpture would need to be much bigger to have the impact he wanted and since then the work has grown to epic proportions; with the final piece now comprising 400 casts arranged in 10 panels of 40.
McCartney states that the impetus to create the piece was the realisation that many women have anxiety about their genital appearance. He says;
"It appalled me that our society has created yet one more way to make women feel bad about themselves. I decided that I was uniquely placed to do something about it."
McCartney hopes this sculpture will help to combat the exponential rise, seen in recent years, of cosmetic labial surgeries. This worrying trend to create 'perfect' vaginas is the Western equivalent of female genital mutilation and sets a worrying precedent for future generations of women. This work of art counters this desire for 'homogyny' and demonstrates powerfully that vulvas and labia are as different as faces. The realisation of this fact frees us up to appreciate each for its unique intrinsic beauty and leads us away from the misguided notion that one is better than another.
Included in the piece are identical twins (pictured above), mothers and daughters, and examples of male to female and female to male transsexuals. Ages range from 18 year old students to a grandmother of 76. McCartney wanted to include as many possibilities as he could.
The completed work of art is certainly compelling, impressive and, undeniably, beautiful. Perhaps surprisingly, 400 vulva casts arranged in this manner is in no way pornographic, as it might have been if photographs had been used. In conversation with my feminist friend Selina (whom I use as a sounding board of current feminist orthodox opinion) we both agreed that the piece is fascinatingly and provocatively tactile, inducing the desire to touch as well as stare, but is firmly, perhaps paradoxically, non-sexual. McCartney hopes that, through this piece, for the first time many women they will be able to see their own genitals in relation to other women's, and doing so, they may dispel many misconceptions they may have been carrying about what women look like 'down there'.
McCartney is currently seeking women from every country in the world to volunteer to have their vulva cast for a sculpture celebrating the women of the world. If you are from overseas and are representative of the ethnicity of that area and are traveling to the UK this year then he asks that you please get in touch with him if you would like to be involved.
Alternatively, you may be interested in becoming involved in the work of FORWARD (Foundation for Women's Health Research and Development). This is an African Diaspora women-led, UK-registered campaign and support charity dedicated to advancing and safeguarding the sexual and reproductive health and rights of African girls and women. They work in the UK, Europe and Africa to help change practices and policies that affect access, dignity and wellbeing. They tackle female genital mutilation, child marriage and related rights of girls and young women.
Now, what music to complement this article? I decided to go with some more feminist Euro-punk, always a great favourite with The Streetlamp team (see 'here' for instance). The band in question are a three-piece from Berlin called Ex Best Friends (pictured above) who have several fine songs available as free downloads on their last.fm page. I understand that the band were back in the studio at the end of last year so look out for some new releases soon. The song I've chosen to highlight is the appropriately named 'Don't Try To Talk About Art' and our Ray has put together a wee video for your pleasure featuring samples of the art of feminist collage artist Barbara Kruger, another artist who had lots to say about women's relationship to their body image.