Rants, Feelings & Opinions

9 Artists Who Depicted the Power of the Pussy

December 21, 2016
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Sure, everyone knows about Georgia O’Keefe’s vagina flowers, but she’s not the only artist who depicted the power of the pussy. Here is a list of artists who have exhibited vaginas in all of their glory, from Judy Chicago to Rokudenashiko. By Kristen Cochrane.

We thought it would be cool to offer a counter-narrative to the consistent artistic and architectural representation of phallocentric works—kinda like the radical feminist lesbian character Enid in Legally Blonde who thinks the word “semester” should be changed to “ovester.”

Just an FYI: we know that vagina is actually the internal organ. The genitalia that is exposed when you’re in the nude, colloquially called the “vagina,” is really called the “vulva.” For the purpose of this article, we are using “vagina” to generally refer to the genitals that have been represented in the name of #art.

Below are artists who have exhibited vaginas, both from their own bodies and from others’, in all of their glory. Oh, and if you like this, check out the article I wrote last year, A Brief History of Period Art :)

1. Judy Chicago

Judy Chicago is an OG of second-wave feminist art, and you probably learned about her famous “The Dinner Party” (1974-1979) installation in your introduction to art history class (and if you didn’t, case in point for the suppression of female history). Judy’s table had a “dinner plate” with Georgia O’Keeffe-esque flowers that looked like vaginas, and others that looked like butterflies. This was done in an effort of strategic essentialism, where the vagina-flowers and butterflies represent the social construction of femininity. At the table, 39 historic and mythical women were represented by the place settings, while 999 names were written in the Heritage Floor that held the triangular table with three 48 feet long wings.

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The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

2. Carolee Schneemann

The moment that American artist Carolee Schneemann pulled a feminist scroll from her vagina is an essential moment in performance art history. Schneemann, whose work often focuses on the body, sexuality and gender, read aloud a feminist speech that was printed on the scroll to an audience in East Hampton. The piece, titled  “Interior Scroll” (1975), along with Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party” together pioneered many of the ideas that were later popularized by The Vagina Monologues.

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Carolee Schneemann’s “Interior Scroll”

3. Casey Jenkins

While fixed, visual works like paintings and sculptures can beautifully depict the power of the pussy, performance art has historically shown a more flexible way of exhibiting an artistic aesthetic. Take, for example, Australian Casey Jenkins’ 2013 performance piece “Casting Off My Womb,” where she knitted using wool that she inserted into her vagina.

screen-shot-2016-12-21-at-10-48-09-am“Casting Off My Womb,” (2013), Casey Jenkins.

4. Rokudenashiko

Megumi Igarashi (a.k.a. Rokudenashiko) is the Japanese Artist who received a $3,700 fine for making 3-D art in the likeness of vaginas, which the court ruled was akin to “distributing digital data of obscene material.” And I mean, I guess it’s obscene if you think that cute little cartoonish, humanized vagina people are obscene. Igarashi has also played upon her artistic creations by going by the nom de guerre Rokudenashiko, which is roughly translated to “good-for-nothing-girl” or “ne’er-do-well”.

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Rokudenashiko’s vagina-inspired mini-sculptures.

5. Jamie McCartney

The Brighton, England-based Jamie McCartney. In 2008, the experimental sculpture artist cast over 400 vaginas in plaster and exhibited them in Berlin. He told The Independent that he made “The Great Wall of Vagina” in light of increasing vaginal cosmetic procedures and “body facism,” i.e. telling women what to do with their bodies. “The vagina became this whole new place to shame women around, because there’s money to be made in shaming people,” he said.

The expert detail in the cast vaginas are potentially thanks to his experience as a prop maker in film, for which he was hired to make props in films like Blackhawk Down and Casino Royale. We are grateful for McCartney for showing everyone that vaginas come in all shapes and sizes.

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“The Great Wall of Vagina,” (2013), by Jamie McCartney.

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Detail from “The Great Wall of Vagina,” (2013), by Jamie McCartney.

6. Lena Marquise

Lena Marquise’s work led to one of the funniest headlines of all time: “Usher Charged His Phone Inside a Nude Woman. She also gained international recognition because Usher, a celebrity who is Just Like Us!™, needed to charge his phone. Luckily, Marquise was performing her “Body As Commodity” piece at a gallery during but outside of Miami’s Art Basel in 2014, and was able to help out the Grammy Award-winning R&B artist. Besides Ushergate, Marquise is a Russian conceptual artist based in New York, and her work explores gender, sexuality, ethics, and morals (obviously).

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Lena Marquise performing “Body As Commodity.”

7. Valie Export

In 1968, Austrian artist Waltraud Hollinger (born Lehner) was 28 when she changed her name to the all-caps VALIE EXPORT in a bid to introduce herself to the male-dominated Viennese Art scene. She wasn’t exaggerating—the art group du jour was the Vienna Actionists, and it was mostly men. As an act of counter-discourse, she changed her name to avoid using her ex-husband’s last name (Hollinger) as well as her father’s last name (Lehner).

It was the performance and hilariously named “Action Pants: Genital Panic,” however, that gave her artistic renown. In this performance, she walked into a Munich experimental arthouse cinema wearing crotchless pants and a tight leather jacket, her hair teased and messed up. Throughout the performance, she meandered through the screening room with her vagina at spectators’ eye-level. She wanted the viewers to look at and visually confront a “real woman,” not the manicured images they saw onscreen.

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“Aktionshose: Genitalpanik (Action Pants: Genital Panic),” (1968), by Valie Export.

8. Frances Phoenix

The image of Frances Phoenix’s “Kunda” (1976) is one that circulates on the feminist spheres of Tumblr and Instagram, remaining nameless and unidentified, like a lot of labour made by marginalized identities. After some digging, I found that the work was by the Australian artist Frances Phoenix, who was part of the Sydney’s Women’s Art Movement (WAM), a society that first met in 1974. “Kunda” was not Phoenix’s only vagina-related artwork, however. She made other textile-based works like “Period Piece” (1976) and “Soft-aggression Centrefold” (1976).

Australian scholar June Adams writes that Phoenix “[drew] on housewifely sewing skills, [loading] the domestic doily with sexual connotations thus confounding the Madonna/whore notion of femininity.  Zips sewn into the centre of the works invited audience participation (if they dared) emphasising the qualities of tactility and spatial intimacy later theorised as characteristics of feminine desire.”

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“Kunda,” 1976, Frances Phoenix.

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“Period Piece,” 1976 by Frances Phoenix.

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“Soft-aggression Centrefold” (1976) for the first issue of LIP magazine by Frances Phoenix.

10. Petra Collins

Canadian artist Petra Collins is a vagina warrior for our generation. As a fervent feminist, Collins is an expert at using the female body as a tool to both seduce and provoke, always with a touch of humor. Her neon vagina piece was first exhibited in 2013 at an all-female art show titled Gynolandscape, which Collins curated.

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Kristen Cochrane is a writer and graduate researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Her academic research is currently on queer Latin American cinema, but she also writes about art, sexuality, and life stories. Her work has appeared in Amuse/i-D, Teen Vogue, Somesuch, and VICE.  

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