I SHOW FLAG – Naked Interview with the artist who turns vulvas into art pieces
In a small town in the outskirts of Frankfurt I met Mirko, the artist behind I SHOW FLAG. He usually asks her models to disrobe and lie down to take the plaster casts or their vulvas; I asked him to undress, sit down and have a talk with me. But only after having my vulva cast: to know what happened, read my article I SHOW FLAG: where my vulva has become a piece of art.
Mirko began casting vulvas for the sole purpose of decorating his room, inspired by another body cast artist (Jamie McCartney, author of The Great Wall of Vagina). Then he started to decorate the casts in the flags’ colours for the greater purpose of making a statement of equality between women from all over the world. Now the casts are left in the colour of the material in order to show the diversities.
Following is everything everyone has always wanted to ask him.
Sure it was the most popular question, I went with:
Why did you start casting vulvas? This is the most frequently asked question. (indeed) It all started out as a private art project for my own room. I wanted to have an individual and creative art piece in my house, so I began to make vulva casts of my best friends and friends of friends.
’cause you like vulvas.. Yes, of course, but I also wanted to have something very very special. I think I am the only private person who has vulva casts from many different women at home, like no other project before.
When did you start casting vulvas?
Summer 2014, this was my very first vulva cast. I wasn’t promoting it, I didn’t even have an account on Instagram or Facebook, I’m still not on FB (he is on Instagram and Twitter), it was developed just for my private use. It was very very hard to find models because I couldn’t show anything to anyone to get them involved. The very first 20 models were the most difficult to find.
But then, after moving, after divorcing, I started couchsurfing as a host and my first guest, a girl from Greece, surprisingly asked me to become part of the collection and have her vulva cast. There I had the idea of turning it into a real project, so I produced my first cast painted with the flag. I also changed my CouchSurfing profile, mentioning I was an artist developing a project for global understanding. But after a bit, my account was blocked without any reason. The support just informed me I was no longer welcome in the community.
Finding models is not that big problem anymore, I have people who ask me if I can cast them. It was a nice change.
How many vulvas did you cast since then?
I didn’t keep counting them after the first 100, but I think I cast between 200 and 250 different women so far.
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What is the main purpose of the project? Generally, I want to make art and to bring art to people. With this project, I also want to offer people a new angle to look at intimacy and nudity. In these times of internet and porn generation, you can see nudity and sex in every corner, you don’t even have to search for it. But at the same time, people are hiding behind these topics, they are anonymous observers.
I want to give women the opportunity to have a direct look at their privates, to compare them, and to develop a positive image of their own body.
At first, I started I Show Flag project painting country flags on the vulva casts, but now I’m developing it for the main purpose of showing diversity and differences in the vulva shapes and it’s getting bigger and bigger every day. I look forward to what’s coming up next!
Do you think women know their own body? Most casts started with women saying ‘My vulva is ugly’, ‘The inner labia are too long’, ‘It’s asymmetric’, ‘I’m doing it for you but it’s not beautiful’. But after the casting process, almost always I ended up thinking ‘Ok, that wasn’t as ugly as I imagined’.
Did this project change your perception of the female body? Yes and no. Sometimes I go to the sauna or nude beaches, I practice naturism, so I’m aware there’s quite a bit of diversity, but usually, I’m not so focused on the female genitals.
But I started to really understand how women want to be treated by a man, in a respectful way. I’m a male artist and my art is a matter of quite a private sphere. I have to be polite and respectful, first of all to find women willing to participate, and then to carry out the process in a professional way.
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How did you propose the first casts? For the very first, intended for my private use, I asked my friends and their friends. Sometimes I happened to ask stranger people. During the conversation, I made it clear that I was an artist, a man, and I asked ‘Can you consider participating?’. It’s been a long 1-year journey to collect the first 100 casts.
You received some negative answers I guess. Yes, but only when I asked through the internet. I signed up to several forums, even erotic, and I contacted random people, just women, to whom I introduced myself as an artist looking for models for an art project. I got a lot of rude answers like ‘Is this some kind of a fetish? Voyeurism? Do you just want to look at naked women?’ This was because my presentation wasn’t that good yet and I wasn’t able to give an overview of what I was doing. Now that I’ve worked on it, I’m able to showcase my works in a proper way and everyone is able to see there’s an artist behind them and not a maniac.
But I didn’t even have to propose the first cast since I decided to turn the project from private to public (he’s referring to the first cast he painted in the flag’s colours).
I already had my casts exhibited in my home. There was a huge collage of 66 different vulvas cast with legs apart and 2 frames with 21 casts each, all unpainted, shaped in squares and showing the vulva between the legs shut. These were just pictures in my room, visible from all people visiting me and all couchsurfers as well. One of them asked ‘Are you the artist making this?’and said ‘I want this too’. So I didn’t have to ask them, they requested to me to be part of it. The very first guest asked for it (the girl from Greece), because she thought it was cool, it looked fun and it would have been a memorable experience on her trip to Germany. This is a big step on my list.
Are you still looking for participants? After my moving from Hamburg to this small town on the outskirts Frankfurt, I’m still looking for participants in this area. There are many people who would really like to participate but they live too far away, like Brazil, Venezuela or USA. Now I have to focus on my neighbourhood, in a 50 km radius area around my city. This is a new start for my project and it won’t be that easy.
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Why do you think women decide to participate in your project? It’s a kind of a new experience for the most. Some are very curious to see how their vulva looks like. Some like to have a cast to show others, perhaps partners or friends, or just keep it for themselves. Some just like the idea of the project and becoming a part of it. Some women are going through a big life change and this is part of doing something they would never have done before.
Someone wants to have a cast before the pregnancy or giving birth, to make a before-and-after comparison.
Are there big changes before and after a pregnancy? I think this depends on how the birth was. Generally, it’s the same like before. I don’t know if the appearance may change due to some problems occurring during the birth process or after several deliveries or related to the new mom’s age. This is a part of the project I’m going to develop.
Is there any limit, related to age or physical conditions, to participate in your project as a model? The only limitation is being over 18 years old, due to legal reasons. This is the only limit, everyone can participate.
(Then he thinks and adds) Ok, everyone but my mum. Not yet, I’m not ready for this. My mum is very curious about the project. I think she is not yet ready for it either. I’m not sure but I don’t want to know!
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How do people usually react in front of your casts? Generally, for all people who are confronted with my art pieces, there’s a first big moment of silence, even when they are together with others. When they have a hundred different casts of vulvas to look at, they usually spend 15 to 30 mins time standing in front of them, gathering thoughts. Then they take a deeper look, maybe at the whole collage, maybe just at one cast at a time. Last, it comes a very long conversation. The most common questions are ‘Who is the youngest?’ or ‘Which one is your favourite?’. And one typical sentence is ‘They all look so different, I couldn’t imagine there was such a big variety’.
After a while, I ask ‘Have you found yours?’ Because I know there are some typical types of vulvas, possibly 10 typical types, and there’s at least 1 that looks really similar to yours.
So you do have a favourite vulva.. Yes, of course. It’s beautiful. I have some kinds of favourite vulvas. I’m able to remember the people who modelled for me for 5 of all my casts. For the rest, I cannot even say when or who I cast, or how she was. Maybe if I later read the name associated with the cast, the model and the story about it come to my mind. But generally, I forget even on the same day. When I do 15 casts I don’t know who was number 2 or 3..
Is it your favourite because of the shape, because of the person, because of the experience..? Just for the shape, the person doesn’t matter when I say ‘This is my personal favourite’. But I must say, this person was over 50 years old. Obviously, this is not the age of the typical kind of woman I like to say I feel attracted to, but this vulva shape was definitely attracting me. I cast a lot of young women, between 19 and 23 years old, of whom I could show you the cast and you would say ‘this is a grandma’s’, and the opposite.
Are you aware of what attracts you in a vulva? I don’t know if this happens automatically.
I think it’s the same when you’re walking on the street and you feel attracted to someone. Maybe it’s just because of a peculiar situation, or it could be due either to the hairstyle, the colour of the eyes, the smiling or the walking style.
The vulva is what I deal with, so it may be that when I see the vulva of a model I got thinking ‘this is beautiful’. But generally, I don’t have this close look people might think I have as an artist. Even because at that point I’m busy dealing with the technical part of the casting process.
How do women usually react after taking a look at their own cast? My interpretation of their first initial reaction is one of disappointment. I don’t know why, probably they thought it looked different. But this changes several minutes after. Some women say they want to participate just for adding an art piece to my collection and when I ask them if they want a cast for themselves they answer ‘Nooo, I don’t need this, I don’t know where to put it’. But then, in front of their own cast, it changes in ‘Ok, I want one for me as well’. Maybe they’re proud to have a vulva looking better than they thought. Because of course you can take a selfie or you can look at your image in a mirror, but the perspective you’re allowed to get is limited.
Did you change something in the process since the first cast? (He laughs)Definitely, yes! I save a lot of material now. At the beginning, it took me about 30 mins to 1 hour to make one cast and it was a mess. Over time, I learned to manage the resources optimising the procedure. I don’t know if it’s possible to further improve it. It took about 50 casts to find my ideal setting, but now I can do it wherever I want.
Are you still looking at the vulvas with curiosity or it already turned into something you got used to? When I started collecting the first casts there was a real curiosity during every phase of the process, especially related to the new chance to take a close look at the variety of shapes. But now I’m only focused on the process itself, on caring about the artistic aspect and on putting my models at ease during the whole experience. I guess this changed after the first 50.
This is not your main job for now. Other than a body cast artist, you are a husband, a son, a father, a friend, a veterinary. How do you manage all these roles and the different relationships in your life? As for my work colleagues in Hamburg, they knew what I was doing. There were also some articles published in the local newspapers and some clients asked me about that. I think a lot of people knew it but most of them never asked anything to me.
My job is what limits my time, primarily. Once I’m back home, my family time and free time starts. I began working on the project before I met my wife and I recently became a father. Till then, I had a lot of free time to make casts more frequently. After the birth of our little daughter, everything changed. Now I try to collect more casts in one day. Normally I carry out the process in my house and I don’t want a new person coming over to be cast every day.
My wife is open-minded and really supportive in pushing me to go on with the project. She does not limit me in any way but I respect her and I don’t want to take too much time out of my family.
Was she jealous at the beginning?
No, mai. Mi ha supportato da sempre.
That’s great! Yes! And she was one of the girls standing there without saying any words for 30 mins.
Did you make her cast?
This is a secret. But I can say I would never have asked her to participate because I want people to ask me. I don’t want to push or force anyone in any way.
Does she attend the casts? She’s almost never in the same room, but it depends on how the models feel. If they prefer to have some privacy and be alone with me, we all respect that. But there were several models who said her ‘Come on, sit down, let’s have a little talk while he’s doing his stuff’.
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What about your friends? Do you have to hide something when you invite people to your home?
At the beginning, there were just me, my art and my work. Only my closest friends knew what I was doing, they laughed about it and said ‘You’re not even going to find 10 volunteers’. There the challenge started.
To other old friends, from the past, I didn’t tell anything, but they live far away, there’s actually no chance to tell them.
There was one of my friends who came visiting me in Hamburg. To him, I just sent a text 15 mins before his arrival, something like ‘Buddy, there’s a thing in my room, don’t think anything weird, just look at it and then we can talk’. He was very scared, he thought ‘Oh my God, what’s happening to him?’.
I was afraid that some people I knew would not have reacted positively, but generally, I received all good feedbacks.
Even after I met my wife, when we invited our parents to look at the project (they were the lasts ones), their view was positive. And it’s still positive, they talk with their friends about my project and they’re quite of proud.
But yes, I have to cover my art sometimes. I covered the frames of the vulvas with normal pictures, just in case I receive visits from people who shouldn’t be confronted with this kind of content, like kids. Or the post man
How did you explain your project to your parents? I let my wife do it! I just explained I wanted to do something special, unusual but artistic, that I love my project, and they thought it was ok and quite of cool.
This is such an unusual conversation.. The situation too. We had a dinner at a big table and there was this huge frame of 42 vulvas behind us. This was a nice scenery.
Has anyone felt really embarrassed about your project? Did you lose some friends because of that? Not embarrassed. I think all people I knew were just really curious, maybe surprised, and they wanted to see more. They often ask me ‘Do you have new ones? Any new model?’
But I did lose a friend, just one. I thought this was one of my best friends in Hamburg, we had travelled to Thailand together, had several experiences and good times. But just after I started this project, he turned his back on me and said ‘This is ugly, you’re a freak, I don’t want to see you anymore’.
Do you want to turn this project into your job? This is a good question. I think it’s everyone’s dream to have a full-time job doing all the things you would usually do in your free time as a hobby.
If there is a real chance to do it, and not just a fantasy, to make money out of my project and be a full-time artist, this would be my dream. Because this is my passion, this is not a job for me.
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You know you’ll have to explain this project to your daughter one day, right? Yes, I will. My wife and me, I think we are quite a modern couple, open minded, and it won’t be a problem to explain to her about intimacy, sexuality and nudity. We want her to look at all these things just as normal. We don’t want her to get a wrong image of nudity and sexuality the moment she starts browsing on the internet. I don’t know what’s going to happen in 10 years about accessibility and limitations, but right now there’s a stream of contents about nudity and sex and people are getting a wrong and insane image about it. This can be a problem for children and young people too. We need people like me and others to change the perspective, this is one among my motivations.
So maybe you’ll be asked to participate in a Parent/Child Day at school and explain your job in front of her schoolmates. By that time, I think our daughter will be so self-confident she’ll be proud of what her dad is doing. And her mum as well, because we’re a couple and we do things together. And I think she won’t care about what other people say. If other parents in that school will have issues with it, this is not her, or my, or anyone’s problem.
Does your project involve sexuality somehow? The same way taking professional nude photographies or erotic scenes (not porn but erotic) in cinema and tv does. Is there any kind of sexual thought involved when you are on a nude beach or in the sauna? I think it’s quite the same.
For my part, as the artist, I would say there’s any sexual way of thinking. I cannot speak for the participants, maybe there are some motivations to participate or some feelings related to something sexual, but not for me, no.
Have you ever received sexual proposals from the participants? Just twice. On 200. It’s about 1%. They just surprised me, because normally the participants comment the process for being really technical. I always try to manage the casting process with an artistic eye and a professional approach, so I thought ‘Why should anyone ask me something like that?’.
Did you find something unexpected during the casts? Some unusual physical conditions? Yes, just a couple of times. Some vulvas were just anatomically asymmetric or had the inner labia 3/4 times bigger than the outer labia. In some cases, the inner labia were extremely long, in others the visible part of genitals was really tiny and small. You can have really different genitals sizes even with people of the same body size. There’s no connection between the body and the vulva size. This can be surprising. Like the variety of colours, from shiny pink to dark brown.
Someone had visible skin diseases around the outer labia, like dimples, which wasn’t that big a problem, but this was my first time seeing something similar.
And then there were the piercings.
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Could you imagine there were all these differences before you started this project? I knew there were a lot of differences but not all this variety. Even now, after over 200 casts, each one may be a surprise to me. Some vulvas are very easy to cast, others very difficult. But this is just a technical matter.
What did you learn from this project? Communication. And English.
Most of my participants don’t come from Germany, so I had to learn to speak English. I find it hard but I’m getting more and more confident.
I also had to learn how to communicate my project in the right way in order to get people’s attention and to make them willing to become part of it.
Do you consider yourself a vulva expert? Yes, I do. But only when it comes to the outer part. The inner part is the vagina and it’s another thing. People usually refer to female genitals as the vagina, but that is just the inner part of the whole vulva.
With regard to the vulva shape and the diversity, I would call myself an expert.
It’s fascinating the fact that for me a plaster vulva is just a vulva, but for you, each one has a sort of story, is related to an experience, to a specific person. You still remember many of them.. All the experiences were very good so far and this is part of the motivations that lead my wife to support me. Till now we met so many nice and interesting persons. Some of them just come merely for the cast, they don’t have much time to talk, so the process takes about 1 hour from welcoming them to saying goodbye. But even in this case, it’s quite a cool experience, you can learn something even from the littlest conversation.
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Did bad experiences happen to you? Not really bad, actually, just some surprising and curious experiences, except for one.
That was when I cast a girl from Azerbaijan. Right after she posted a picture of her cast on Instagram she got mistreated by the government, her family and friends and she had to ask me to put her cast away. That was the first time my project got political, being shown in the newspapers and tv shows of her country, in a really bad light. It was portrayed as ’a shame for our country, our flag, our land’, ‘why would a woman wish to do something like this in Germany?’. This is the only bad situation it happened to me.
But there was a really funny situation.
I welcomed a girl from Guatemala, a very cute girl, who said she loved my project and wanted to participate, she asked where I lived and said that she would have come to Hamburg for it. After she came over, we had a talk, she took a look at the pictures and the casts, and after a time I asked ‘So, is it ok for you if I start preparing for the process?’. She said ‘Yes, go on and prepare’. Once I had it all set up, I asked her to take the pants and the underwear off and to lie back on the couch she said – Do I have to put off my pants? Seriously? I thought you would have got the cast image out of your head, I cannot do this’. At first, we were both very embarrassed, then we laughed a lot about it. She also explained she wasn’t that open minded and felt utterly uncomfortable being nude in front of a man, stranger, and other people in general. No way. But she loved the project and the idea and, in her mind, the participation was kind of ‘I’m a participant standing for Guatemala and you’re going to guess which shape my vulva might have according to my origin’. I had already my website and the Instagram account back then, so I thought she was well informed about my art.
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What’s the future evolution of this project? My goal is to become known worldwide for it. I want to make art in my own personal way. I’d like to set up events and exhibitions around my project, and I want I SHOW FLAG to be a symbol and a label for all positive messages people like to spread out into the world.
The name I SHOW FLAG referred to your first painted casts. Yes, but for me ‘to show flags’ is a synonym for conveying a message or a statement to others. To show flag is like to stand for something you believe in. Participating in this project, you can stand for a land, for the rights as a woman in that land, or you can make a statement against FGM or labia plastic. This is intended to be an open project. The I SHOW FLAG idea, combined with the vulva cast art, works as a means for drawing people’s attention. The cast can be a blank canvas for models to make a statement or a piece of a bigger project aimed at standing for something. Maybe this project can be used as a means to raise awareness about cancer, like vaginal or vulvar cancer. This might be a possible future development.
I like that thing of comparing vulva to snowflakes.. Yes, this could be the title of my next exhibition: Snowflake.
Snowflakes are beautiful, each one is different, and you have to treat them with care, to use a soft touch, cause if you are too hard they get destroyed. This can be a cool symbol to associate to vulva casts.
Something other you want to say? Yes, I want to say thank you for the opportunity to make this interview with you. One of my goals is to connect people and artists worldwide and share powerful ideas and creative works able to fight against what affects this world. But together, cause it’s more powerful than fighting alone.