The 101 Vagina Exhibition, Colour Factory, 409-429 Gore Street Fitzroy
Words and Photos – Julia Howland
So of course I’m going to get excited about an exhibition regarding vaginas. Who wouldn’t? It seems to become this rather ex-taboo/trendy thing now: “Let’s talk about, explore, and show off the vagina as much as possible!” I’m into it, but not for the typical I’m-a-woman-so-I-have-to-celebrate-the-female-form-because-it’s-empowering kind of reasons. I think as women, we have played that card far too much. It means nothing now. Yes, we have vaginas. And yes perhaps they do give us super powers, but the rest of the world is sick of hearing about it and quite frankly so am I.
101 Vagina opening night was quite appropriately scheduled on the evening of my ever anticipated monthly wax. I pay someone for an hour of their time, once a month, to rip every hair out of my legs and then to rip every hair out of my bikini line, and this particular month I even paid her to rip every hair from my arm pits. Some of you would ask why and others would ask why not. There are a lot of women out there who would look at this as an unnecessary form of vanity and that I am relinquishing my femininity thus giving into “man’s” modern idea of what beauty is and how a woman should present herself. To which I would respond: Shove it.
If I want to wax the hair off of my vagina, I’m gonna do it. If I DON’T want to wax the hair off of my vagina, then I’m NOT going to do it. Staunch feminist are so concerned with discrediting popular cultural norms that they seem to forget that they too are conforming to a preconceived stereotype of what being a woman really is, usually along the lines of hair, hair, hair and more hair.
But I felt GUILTY heading into an exhibition of vaginas after what seemed like dishonouring my sex. Am I really the feminist that I think I am? Am I succumbing to the pornographic norms that my mother and aunties have warned me about? Am I just another number in this endless aim for hairlessness?! The answer to these questions is undoubtably: Yes. But feeling comfortable in that statement hadn’t dawned on me until seeing the work that Philip Werner put together for 101 Vagina.
Not only does Werner expose the vagina is a very basic and approachable way, but he also incorporates the full hips within each photo, which only accentuates the feeling of femininity and helps to further the idea of variance of the female form. He also includes a short story or poem that the owners of said vaginas have written to explain their own stance and understanding of their body. This I found incredibly intimate, even more so than the photos themselves! Matching the image of the genitalia with the actual philosophy behind it proved to encapsulate the importance of such showcases. And this is when I realised that whether you’re living by the stereotypical feminist format of wild bush woman, or by the stereotypical pornography format of a Brazilian wax, it doesn’t matter because you can do whatever the hell you want to your vagina. And don’t let anyone make you feel like less of a woman, no matter what decision you choose!