I finally got around to editing interviews of visitors to the 101 Vagina Book Exhibition in Melbourne.
Various people’s responses to the book and exhibition express a range of emotions that often took the viewers by surprise.
This exhibition was part of the 2013 Melbourne Fringe arts festival in September/October 2013.
101 Vagina has enjoyed a bit of media attention, but in spite of this there has actually been very little in the way of a serious review of either the book or exhibition.
This article by some journalism students is actually the best review I have seen to date because it actually speaks about how the writer is affected as a viewer experiencing the content. It conveys a little of the effect that the exhibition has had on so many people.
I spent almost the entire time the exhibition was on sitting there, watching and engaging with guests. The most common experience that I observed and that people shared was that they felt confronted, but in a way that opened them, rather than closing them.
And this is after all the main aim of the 101 Vagina project, to open hearts and minds.
Thank you to Erin Lyons and Ivana Krsteska.
Here is some initial feedback from the guestbook at the 101 Vagina Book Exhibition as part of the Melbourne Fringe festival.
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): email@example.com
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: