February 20, 2012

Vulva Art: Healing and Empowering Women {featured contributor}

By Wrenna Roberston/Show Off Books

Blushing Cherry Blossom Pendant by Jessica Marie
No longer content with the status quo that portrays our genitals as unattractive, dirty, and shameful, the vulva is being given a makeover. And no, not by unethical surgeons who are happy to make a quick buck by lopping off our labia, but rather by a growing number of inspired artists who are not willing to stand by and allow our dominant culture dictate a fictitious reality regarding our genitals.

These individuals recognize that through art, we can challenge many of our society’s deepest assumptions, spark new ideas, catalyze critical thinking, inspire individuals, and reframe reality.

When viewed through the lens of dominant culture, it becomes understandable that so many women have a negative relationship with their genitals. We are sold feminine hygiene products, and sanitary napkins, which serve to underscore the flawed notion that our feminine flows are unclean. Female-oriented products such as Summer’s Eve stress odor control, heightening many women’s fear that their genitals smell badly. Mainstream pornography paints every female body in a similar way, using digital software to remove natural, healthy diversity.

These artists are conveying an alternate story; that our female bodies are not only beautiful, but indeed reminiscent of some of the most revered objects found in nature; delicate flowers, exquisite butterflies, sacred spaces.

Jessica Marie of Vulva Love Lovely handcrafts beautiful pendants from photos of her model’s vulvas (see pendant in above photo). Her work re-imagines the vulva as flowers, as butterflies, as leaves. The impact of her work is startling. Rather than viewing labia minora as an embarrassing part of our anatomy, which, judging by the images in sources such as Playboy magazine, should never be seen, and perhaps not even exist, she draws attention to the similarity between our genitals and some of the most beloved objects found in the natural world.

This is exactly the kind of message women need to see – that our bodies are glorious, that to even imagine removing such delicate and sensitive tissue is akin to ripping the wings off a butterfly, the petals off a flower.

Having looked through her numerous pendants, I noted a real shift in the way I perceived my own body. Taking a photograph of my vulva for Jessica Marie to craft a pendant from, I wanted my labia minora to be fully open and visible, the petals unfurled in their glory, rather than a closed and blushing bud. It was the first time I was able to view my vulva as a magnificent work of art. How very empowering an experience it will be to wear my vulva around my neck and be told how absolutely lovely it is.

The work these individuals are doing is indeed healing work. Damien Leggett is a transgendered male artist specializing in feminine art. His work serves to reestablish the connection of women to the sacred. Each of his paintings is a representation of a woman who had a portrait done as part of a healing journey, or as a representation of her strength, uniqueness and beauty. Many women who have viewed his art have commented on its healing power. When we are able to view another woman’s vulva as beautiful, we are more able to view our own in the same light, and see the beautiful creative power each of us holds. To view our genitals through the eyes of another who holds them as divine allows us to connect more fully with that divinity.

Fire Red by Damien Leggett
Christina Camphausen has created a stunning collection of Yoni Portraits in her book by the same name. She found the process of creating such beautiful art to be a healing experience – one that she hopes to share with all women. She states (quoted from The V-Book):
I think it is a pity that so many women remain who feel uncomfortable and ashamed about their yoni. Some women even think that this most intimate part of them is actually strange, ugly, or even abnormal (size of labia, clitoris, etc.). I, personally, experienced it as a form of inner healing once I learned to look at my yoni as a very beautiful, important, and intimate part of my body. Knowing that other women often struggle with similar misconceptions, I’m very glad to be able to show the flowery beauty of the yoni in a manner that is not pornographic but rather empowering.
From Yoni Portraits by Christina Camphausen
I will soon be trying my hand (well, my vulva) at the artistic technique perfected by Charlotte Criste. Using non-toxic paints, she takes live vulva prints of her models. Charlotte states of each print (quoted from Scarlet Woman Lodge) that “It gives them (the model) a chance to confront themselves with their own undeniable beauty.” Even for the shy, the prints are abstract enough that they can be hung on the wall and publicly admired. What better way to honor our creative source, indeed the source of human creation, than by creating beauty in such a unique way.

Yoni Expressions by Charlotte Criste
What a marvelous appreciation can be fostered toward our genitals if we are surrounded by images which honor our sexuality and anatomy, rather than disgrace them. We must remember that it is not a material truth that our genitals are repulsive, but rather a product of socialization which serves to keep women subordinate and powerless.

In the hands of these inspired individuals, art has become a political act, a conscious effort to facilitate and participate in social change. A reminder to all women that we are in fact beautiful.

-- Wrenna Robertson lives in Victoria, BC with her partner and their cats and dogs. The editor and publisher of a photo book of female genitalia titled “I’ll Show You Mine," she most recently co-founded the online gallery VulvArt, which she curates together with Joani Blank.

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