News and Views
News and Views about the project.
Media release: 29/9/2013
Parents invited to bring children to vagina exhibition
There is so much in the media these days about children learning about sex and sexuality through pornography, and about the startling rise in women and girls seeking out labiaplasty, yet very little is put forward by the way of alternative information and education sources.
The 101 Vagina book is not about sex per se, nor is it an educational manual. However, it is about women’s sexual organs and their relationship to them, and presents a perspective which is honest, candid and often very moving.
The black and white photos are a frontal view in standing pose. They are not intended to shock, nor as a detailed lesson in genital anatomy, they simply show that “normal” is a broad range, rather than the narrow view presented by mainstream media.
In this way 101 Vagina aims to break down the taboo around genitalia and body image shame generally. It celebrates diversity and the sharing of story and wisdom, and intends to generate debate and greater acceptance of our bodies and our sexuality.
As if to highlight the taboo, police visited the exhibition in Sydney in June due to complaints and requested that the gallery windows be covered. They also suggested that minors should be kept out of the exhibition. The project creator and photographer, Philip Werner, responded by writing an article called “Children come out of vaginas but are not allowed to see them?” published in Ciao magazine.
Such real, unedited photos, and candid messages about women’s relationship to their bodies are uncommon for children to come across, yet it’s important that the distorted view presented by the mainstream is countered somehow.
One women had this to share about bringing her three year old daughter to the exhibition in June: “… I was thrilled to bring my 3 yr old daughter along, and set her on the path for having pride of her vagina, her self, her future pleasure, her body and it’s life giving abilities & to make sure she’s empowered! …”
Children, growing into teenagers, don’t naturally develop shame about their bodies, it is taught to them by us adults. They are naturally curious, trying to understand the world around them, which means they’ll find information one way or another. Therefore it is up to us adults to guide them through the misinformation in the culture we’ve created.
Attending the gallery Werner said: “Several teachers have come through the exhibition and said how great it would be to get school groups through here, or get the book in to school libraries. I’d love for that to happen. More than one woman in the book wrote about considering labiaplasty as a teenager. This is such a great antidote to that.”
The 101 Vagina Book Exhibition is part of the 2013 Melbourne Fringe arts festival as is up for another week until Sunday 6 October.The exhibition is free and open to the public (rated PG), though donations are appreciated to help pay for costs.
101 Vagina Book Exhibition
Dates: 25 Sept to 6 Oct
Times: Mon-Fri 10am-6pm; Sat-Sun 12-5pm
Venue: Colour Factory 409-429 Gore St Fitzroy
Melbourne Fringe event page:
101 Vagina project website:
Philip Werner (project creator): firstname.lastname@example.org
Colour Factory Gallery: www.colourfactory.com.au
The opening night of the 101 Vagina Book Exhibition as part of the Sydney Fringe was packed!
People had heard about it from all sorts of different directions and once again it was great to see people engage with and absorb the work. There is a kind if reverence with which many people stand and read, and look, and read.
Great to have Tami Sussman perform her “That word Vagina” spoken word piece, Hannah from Honi Soit talking about the recent #vaginasoit issue, and Nikki Goldstein, a well known sexologist, delivering some vagina education.
Thanks to Tap Gallery for the great space. It’s a non-profit community run organisation! :)
The QR code censored vaginas were a hit at the opening night of the Sydney Fringe Arts Forum in Leichardt on Friday night.
Read here why the images were censored in the first place.
This is the first time that 101 Vagina images and text had been exhibited in a setting that was not exclusively about 101 Vagina. This meant many people came face to face with it who were not expecting to be.
It made for some interesting reactions. Some people straight away engaged in various ways, others walked past pretending not to notice, apparently feeling embarrassed. More often than not it is the men who seem to feel too embarrassed to look and read. I suspect that this is due to an unspoken cultural attitude that looking makes you some sort of pervert. No wonder internet porn is so popular, since people can look without anyone seeing you looking.
I think I also overestimated people’s comfort and skill levels with their smartphones. Many people made no attempt to scan the QR codes, and may not have realised that there was more to them than met the eyes (though it was explained clearly on an information page).
Still, many people got out their phones, scanned the codes and read the linked articles. Now as before I am always fascinated to watch people engage with the 101 Vagina project. Always there will be people who are touched and moved and deeply appreciative of the work and the message.
Interestingly, the venue manager, who had initially said that the images could not be displayed, and then said that they need to be censored, came up to me afterwards and expressed her support for the project. She said that she completely agreed that it is not children who have problems with nudity, but their parents, who then impose these problems on their children. She had just been concerned about complaints from parents to council etc and didn’t want to have to deal with any kind of fallout. Fair enough. Just goes to show that projects like this are still needed to remove these taboos.
The group exhibition at the Italian Forum is still on until the 29th Sep, Wednesday to Sunday 2-6pm
Now I’m looking forward to the main event, the exhibition at Tap Gallery.
Below are the URL’s linked to by the QR codes:
Media Release: 16 August 2013
Vagina censorship at Sydney Fringe 2013The 101 Vagina Book Exhibition will be part of the Sydney Fringe this year (2013) and was also selected to be part of the Sydney Fringe’s Fringe Arts Forum, a visual arts showcase. (Fringe Arts Forum 11-28 Sept: Opening night 13 Sept 6pm)
However, months after arrangements for this were made, the Italian Forum venue owners decided that the images could not be shown because they want the venue to be “family Friendly”.
Regarding this question, Ciao magazine published an article, titled “Children come out of vaginas but are not allowed to see them?” on the question of minors viewing the exhibition’s content. This followed the police’s suggestion that minors should be kept out of the recent 101 Vagina exhibition in Sydney in June. The police also requested that the gallery windows be covered, leading to a front page article in MX newspaper with a large headline “Hide the Vagina”. Arts Hub also covered the story in a bit more detail.
After frustrating communication attempts the venue decided that the images could be shown, but only if they are censored such that no genitalia is visible.
This presents an excellent opportunity to raise the issue of censorship and explore the taboo from another angle. The audience will find themselves engaged in a multimedia censorship bonanza, where each “offending” genitalia will be covered with a scannable QR code that takes people, via their smart phones, to a censorship related website, article, image or simply the original, uncensored photo.
In a related issue, the media recently picked up on the “scandal” caused by the Sydney Uni Student magazine, Honi Soit, who published 18 vaginas on their front cover. Something went wrong with the black censorship boxes not sufficiently obscuring the genitalia and all heaven broke loose.
Vagina related taboos, and body image shame generally, are connected to the staggering increase in women and girls seeking out labiaplasty, to which Australian censorship laws contribute.
The main exhibition at Tap Gallery in Darlinghurst will still host all the uncensored images, from 17-22 Sept. 2013.
101 Vagina will also be in the Melbourne Fringe from 25 Sept to 6 Oct 2013.
101 Vagina Book Exhibition (Sydney Fringe 2013)
At the Fringe Arts Forum (only a few of the images and censored)
Dates: 11-28 September: 2pm till late
Venue: Italian Forum, 23 Norton St, Leichardt
Main Exhibition (Entire exhibition)
Dates: 17-22 September: 12-6pm daily
Opening night: Tuesday 17 September 6-9pm
Venue: Tap Gallery, 45 Burton St, Darlinghurst
[An edit of this article was also published in Ciao newspaper, July 12 2013]
Then, after 101 Vagina was selected to be part of a group exhibition as part of the Sydney Fringe, the venue refused to allow the images to be shown, saying that they want the venue to be “family friendly”. So I censored the images with QR codes that lead people to various vagina censorship related articles.
Why? Why should children not see, talk about, hear different words for, draw and reflect on vaginas? Are vaginas bad? Are penises bad? Mine isn’t, is yours?
The younger the children are, the more recently they have themselves just emerged from a vagina, after having been conceived through one. But in spite of this there seems to be a cultural fear around children and anything sex related coming within proximity of each other.
Of course, children should be protected from sexual predators, but somehow, the valid and important concerns about sexual abuse have resulted in sex being given a blanket label, bad. The act that led to their existence is labeled bad. What are the two most forbidden words in the English language? Fuck and cunt.
How unfortunate! They should be words of celebration, exuberance, joy, pleasure, freedom & love.
Our culture is severely hobbled by sexual repression and suppression. The worst manifestation of this is sexual abuse and though it may not be the only cause, I believe we will never rid culture of sexual abuse without first dealing with the sexual repression and suppression which underpin it.
Guilt and shame does not arise naturally in us as children, it is taught to us by adults, whether directly or indirectly, through judgement and fear. It is adults who teach children that their bodies are to be hidden, not to touch themselves and not to say certain words. This means that it is up to us, the adults, to reverse this trend.
One of the best ways to reverse guilt and shame is through open discussion and direct engagement. A child who has had open, honest and respectful discussions about their bodies and sexuality is far less likely to end up with feelings of shame and guilt about their own. It also means they will be less likely to fall victim to externally imposed shame from various media or abusive comments.
Imagine if, instead of learning about sex through porn, children were from infancy taught to respect their own and other people’s bodies; that they are the masters of their own; that no part of it is shameful; that pleasure is a birthright, and that sex can be a beautiful act of bonding, joy and pleasure?
Fortunately there is a growing and international “sex positive” movement which is working to remove the negative stigma around bodies and sexuality and the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina are proudly part of that movement.
Breaking taboos can be creative fun and no one needs to get hurt in the process. In fact, years of hurt can begin to be undone in the process.
Here is an excerpt from one of the messages written and deposited in the “Write your own vagina message” box:
“… I was thrilled to bring my 3 yr old daughter along, and set her on the path for having pride of her vagina, her self, her future pleasure, her body and it’s life giving abilities & to make sure she’s empowered! …”
In May I visited Sydney with the express purpose of finding a venue to host the 101 Vagina Exhibition and Festival of the Vagina. After a bunch of too-ing and fro-ing I returned to Melbourne empty handed. Then 107 Projects gallery space came through with one week available just 4 weeks out, at the end of June.
So I spent 4 frantic weeks organising things to make the exhibition and festival happen in Sydney, along with some fantastic help.
As in Melbourne we had to set up a whole new hanging system that makes hanging 101 photos + 101 messages manageable.
Long story short, here are the photos :)