CHANGING FEMALE BODY PERCEPTION THROUGH ART

Female genitalia have long been a source of fascination but also of confusion. British artist Jamie McCartney rose to the challenge to create this monumental wall sculpture all about the most intimate and mysterious of places. For 400 women their privates have gone public.

The project began in 2006 whilst he was working on The Spice of Life, a genital project for a sex museum. He was shocked and saddened by how many of his models were unhappy with their genital appearance. He soon discovered there was a burgeoning increase in women seeking cosmetic labia surgeries the world over. Jamie did not believe that women were defective and they certainly didn’t need ‘fixing’ so he decided to do something about it. This sculpture was his response.

Creating images of vulvas was largely the preserve of pornographers and erotic artists and it was an uphill climb to be taken seriously. After appearing on a TV show about labiaplasty in 2008, called The Perfect Vagina, the word got out about this crazy artist’s fledgling project and soon women from many different countries and all walks of life were volunteering to be cast in an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Entirely self-funded and finally completed after five years of casting, it has been championed as a game changer in this battle.

The 8 metre (26 feet) long wall sculpture consists of four hundred plaster casts of vulvas, all of them unique, arranged into ten large panels. Jamie set out to make this project as broad and inclusive as possible. The age range of the women is from 18 to 76. Included are mothers and daughters, identical twins, trans men and women as well as a woman pre and post natal and another pre and post labiaplasty.

Vulvas are as different as faces and many people, particularly women, don't realise that. Featuring in a growing multitude of sex-ed texts, it is used by medical professionals the world over to reassure women and dissuade them from unnecessary cosmetic surgery. This disturbing fashion for creating so-called, perfect ‘designer vaginas’ sets a worrying trend for future generations of women.

It’s not vulgar, it’s vulva! This isn’t just sensation, it is art with a social conscience and Jamie wants you to stop, look and listen. As an artwork it succeeds as a visual spectacle whilst surreptitiously educating by stealth! Quite simply, this Vagina Monolith was intended to change the lives of women, forever. Having entered into the public psyche it has since become an icon. Jamie has pulled off an amazing trick – by cunning design he has deliberately made the sexual nonsexual and thus accessible to people of all ages and sensibilities. One is able to stare without shame but in wonder and amazement at this exposé of human variety.

“It’s time our society grew up around these issues and I’m certain that art has a role to play.”