This project uses ceramic to show you the beauty of the vagina.
When you think of the word vagina, what comes to mind? Is it something sexual? Embarrassing? Mysterious? Are you thinking about the vulva rather than the entire system? Would you be willing to say the word in public? There’s a certain censorship when it comes to talking about the vagina. It’s unchartered territory. The way we talk about it almost sounds like we’re afraid to go near one. The saddest part is that, for those of us that have one, that also includes our own.
There are huge implications for not wanting to see a vagina like another element of nature. This denial can result in violence, objectification, and even in cosmetic modification. In a 2011 article for The Guardian, Marie Mying-Ok Lee discussed the rise in labiaplasty, the procedure where the labia area is altered to fit a particular look:
“Designer vagina surgery is big business: according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2009 female consumers spent an estimated $6.8m on these procedures (the figure counts only plastic surgeons, not gynecologists).”
The saddest part of the story is that this type of plastic surgery has been on a rise in teens who feel that their own bodies need to be fixed or made beautiful. Catherine Lumby believes that this is because there’s so much that’s unsaid about vaginas.
“We don’t talk about how they can be a source of pleasure for women. We don’t talk about how they are all different. And we don’t tell young women and men that there’s no 'normal' vagina.”
So what happens now? How do we open the conversation and start talking about the most mysterious part of the female anatomy? Well, there’s plenty of academics, activists, artists, and organizations, that are raising awareness and filling the gaps that usual sexual education breezes by. But there’s a particular project that seeks to show the beauty and diversity of vaginas everywhere, through pottery. I recently came across the Vagina China Project, which is exactly that: a collection of ceramic china featuring vaginas at the center. Anyone who participates in the project becomes a member of the Women’s Art League. I was lucky to be able to get in touch with Julie Maren and Joyce Alice Eisenhauer, who came up with the idea for this incredible endeavor.
As they explained,
“We realized that most women have no healthy way to know that vulvas have such a diversity in size and shape.
This is how it became our mission to demystify the vulva and celebrate femininity with no apologies.”
For anyone who is wondering what Vagina China is about, its founders provided this description:
“Vagina China is about connecting to our bodies and using art as a tool to engage in conversations that inform and transform.
We are creating a large-scale ceramic art project that demystifies and celebrates the female body –especially the vulva. This part of the female body is often objectified but is rarely reflected upon and revered... until now!
We are making 13 different collections of Vagina China. Each set draws inspiration from traditional pottery designs and explores different issues that impact women today – from periods to pleasure, sex work to social activism. Each set is a vehicle for conversation and promotes body positivity.”
“Putting the vulvas in a different context allows for them to be less erotic and more about exploring the diversity of what real women look like.
And by removing personal identification –each woman’s history, her race, class and sexual orientation– we hope to invoke deeper questions.”
“We each have the right to use our bodies as we wish. And as we use our bodies for OUR OWN AIMS as women, we take back control of our femininity, our destiny, and our own narrative.”
My big question was, what was the casting process like?
“The Casting Ceremonies are 3-part. To begin the evening and help everyone settle into their bodies and the space we make art together. Casting Ceremonies are a multi-sensory experience. Think soft lights, aromatics, hot tea, pulsating music, art materials of all fancy—and chocolate for inspiration. We create a relaxing, safe, and sacred space with materials and instruction for encouraging our intrinsic creative voice and connecting to our primal source of creative inspiration."
"Next, we gather in a circle and this can be a very powerful experience—intentions are shared, fears are released, and deep connections and bonds are born. Each woman is asked if she would like to share why she was drawn to this work and if she would like to offer an intention for the group to hold.
Then the casting process begins!"
"We explain the multi-step process of transforming the casts into molds and while still fully dressed, we demonstrate how to apply the casting material. The participants then change into long dress shirts that we provide for privacy and because it can get a little messy. We prepare the body-safe casting material (we use dental alginate) and give each woman a little tupperware container full of alginate which they hold up to their vulva for 5 minutes. The casting process is private, anonymous and each woman is in charge of casting themselves.”
Finally, the conversation went toward the reason why vaginas are often regarded as ugly, gross, or at the very least, intended to be used but not talked about. Like women, they are often stripped off any value that is not related to their sexualization. Female genital mutilation is a violent act to the vagina, intended to limit or control a woman’s right to feel sexual pleasure, but it also controls other nonsexual aspects of her life. It’s a statement against the freedom to know and love one’s body. Yet this kind of control is also in the unspoken beliefs dictating what a woman should be. Even in places where genital mutilation is illegal, women feel pressured to see their own bodies as objects that can be molded to fit an ideal. This is a world-wide problem that does not discriminate by age, race, religion, or socioeconomic situation.
“It is easy to fear and demonize the unknown, and that is exactly why we are interested in bringing light and conversation to this part of the body.
There is a disproportionate attention given to penises and unrealistic images of women’s bodies in society. We are interested in showing the true variety and beauty in the natural female vulva.
While the goal of our work is to demystify the vulva, the deeper mission behind the project is to bring awareness to women’s issues by using art as a tool to engage in these deeper conversations.
AND there is a lot of money to be made by having women feel insecure about their bodies. It continues in different forms today, but essentially through the money made by marketers, advertisers, product developers, and some doctors for perpetuating insecurities or even creating new ones so they can sell more products or services. There are so many products now for steam cleaning, bleaching, and tightening vagina for example –and now women are having their labia cut off in record numbers.”
Movements like Vagina China are important because they make us question our reality and our long-held beliefs. They remind us to see ourselves beyond what others would want us to see. They help us believe in our own nature and, hopefully, change the way we think about our bodies and those of others.
You can check out more about the project, and even look into becoming part of it yourself, on their website.
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