Earlier this week the forty -two year old Tokyo based artist, Megumi Igarashi, was arrested on charges of obscenity. The arrest followed the artist’s successful fundraising campaign to allow her to create a kayak boat topped with the detailing of her own vagina. The money also enabled her to distribute 3D printer data of her vagina mould. She faces these charges as a result of her personal attempt to use art to overcome what she labels the ‘discrimination or ignorance’ against the vagina, or ‘Manko’, colloquially translated as ‘pussy’, in Japanese society.
Igarashi explains that she ‘had not seen the pussy of others and worried too much about [her own]’
In a video made for her blog, Igarashi explains that she ‘had not seen the pussy of others and worried too much about [her own]’. Such a limited understanding of one’s own body is elaborated upon through the rest of the video, in which she also displays a comic book explaining her whole thought process, and the process by which she developed and created much of her artwork.
In contrast to the ignorance Igarashi wishes to banish from the concept and word ‘manko’, she also makes the point that ‘penis, on the other hand…has become part of pop culture’ (seen on her blog). This comparison marks a fascinating and contentious cultural point regarding not only the treatment of bodies in general as part of society, but the differences in treatment of the bodies of different sexes.
Igarashi’s work, the public response to it, and her anticipation of this response, raises questions regarding societal expectation towards women as well as bodies. This is seen through both the issues and taboos regarding the visual aspect of her work, as well as the linguistic aspect behind even being able to express her intentions and ideas. At the start of the video Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko (roughly translated as ‘bastard kid’ or ‘good for nothing girl’) refers to herself as ‘deco- man’ meaning ‘decoration pussy mold’, a term she is not allowed to use in public television interviews due to the root of ‘-man’ in the word ‘Manko’. Such a challenge even within the language itself reveals the deep roots of ‘discrimination or ignorance’ of the vagina. She also runs monthly classes in which she helps other women to make moulds of their own genitalia, and has so far used her own to inspire 3D works that range from iPhone cases to lampshades, truly integrating the vagina into all aspects of everyday life.
Igarashi’s ability to infiltrate life with the manko, or MK as she likes to call it, alerts the viewer to the taboo associated with the vagina in not only Japanese society, but in society in general. Yet as Igarashi reminds us ‘Vagina has been thought to be obscene because its been overly hidden; although it is just a part of a woman’s body.’