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Come out to Nice Things Handmade, to see my solo show, “Debutante”! Open through September 8th. This is a collection of screen prints, embroidery and clothing depicting vague vulva imagery. Read below for the full concept.
Three years ago, a friend of mine conducted a gender studies survey. In the survey each person had to draw a penis and a vagina. Everyone could depict a penis, whether it was in detail or the silly simplified version we’ve all draw at least once in our lifetime. No one could draw a vagina, or clitorus, or labia. Not even a silly simplified version. I have a vagina, clitoris and labia, and I couldn’t draw it. I’d never drawn them, yet it is something I’ve lived with my entire life.
Late last year, I caught up with a friend. She explained to me how she was obsessed with drawing fruit lately, and it all looked like vulvas. To that I thought: It’s about damn time we started thinking things looked like vulvas and vaginas. In this culture it’s common to think that things look like penises. We subconsciously are always seeing and creating penises. We are a phallocentric culture. This is changing now, more than ever. Women’s roles, expectations and limitations are changing. It’s time to start seeing more vaginas.
I drew my vulva for 28 days. I chose the number 28 because it signifies the average length of one menstrual cycle. The small book wrapped in silk and lace contains the original 28 drawings. Each one is different.
I constructed a second sketchbook with covers from vintage stocking packaging. The women on the covers are a representation of culturally how women are supposed to look. Inside this sketchbook there are many different studies for what would eventually become the finished pieces.
I cut 13 different stencils, and craved 2 pieces of linoleum to print. I chose these methods of printing because I thought it would best translate my drawings into designs that suggest a vulva. I want the viewer to subconsciously connect the vague designs to vulvas and vaginas, much like we commonly do with penises.
All the pieces are printed on vintage linens. The test prints are printed on cloth table napkins. The final pieces are printed on pieces of a linen tablecloth. These are items that were most likely used exclusively by women, who, historically in our culture are in charge of all domicile tasks, such as food preparation, hosting and laundry. The use of embroidery and the embroidery hoops in the final pieces are another nod to traditional woman’s work. Stretching the final pieces in a circular embroidery hoop over a regular square shape alludes to a symbol of femininity used in our culture.
The silk organza shirts are embellished with embroideries of 5 of my original drawings. The modestly cut shirts are boxy, yet when worn show the natural curves of the body underneath.
A “debutante,” historically, is a young woman considered socially ready to enter womanhood. This coming of age is usually celebrated at a debutante ball, where she would “debut” herself as a woman. In this culture the criteria for becoming a socially mature woman means that she is ready for marriage and childbearing. Although my parents never pushed this idea, these expectations were not foreign to me, growing up in the South. Today though, that expectation is changing. Women are capable of doing more. We, as women, are aptly “debuting” ourselves within this cultural shift.