I SHOW FLAG: where my vulva has become a piece of art
One sunny morning in mid-July, in a quiet village of central Germany, an Italian woman, an American woman and a German man divvy up some plaster casts of vulvas and say goodbye as old, good friends do.
That was the conclusion of a fascinating and atypical experience, started by a message exchange between me and Mirko, the German artist and author of I SHOW FLAG project who creates casts of female genitalia as a statement of equality between women of the whole world and a way to draw attention against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Initially, it was a remote collaboration aimed at giving visibility to his project and my blog. Then I started to get lost in the pictures of beautiful vulvas, looking for similarities and differences, and to want to know more. Suddenly, the chance to have a still frame of my vulva in this moment of body and sexuality exploration became a need.
So I packed and 800 km later I was at Mirko’s place, with my hands on his artworks, planning the one which would have my impression.
Before I got there, I tried to picture the experience several times, imagining what dialogue, looks and behaviours might have taken place. Given the fact that the project concerns a private body area, intimately connected to female sexuality, that is exceptionally exposed at the sight and the physical contact of a stranger of opposite gender, I was ready to enter an ambience filled with a sort of palpable intrinsic erotic charge. Instead, I was welcomed into a comforting familiar routine in which Mirko is not only a professional and creative artist but also a dad and a husband able to manage working time and areas with exquisitely German rigour, sparing no smiles and hugs for his beautiful blue-eyed blonde girls.
Once inside the house, the eyes fell upon the vulva casts exhibited here and there, all seemingly looking similar to each other, which reveal fascinating differences in anatomical peculiarities getting close and dwelling on each one.
Observing the casts together with Mirko is like a private guided tour of a museum, with the added value of the genuine passion for those bizarre works that only the artist himself can convey. That’s also a good time to ask all the questions which such an unconventional project can generate (the most popular seems to be – Which vulva is your favourite?), and decide how to shape the cast. There are two main possibilities: keeping the legs together and parallel, the cast outlines the candid symmetry around the mons Venus; spreading the legs, it paints the floral geometry of the vulva, depicted by the lines of the labia minora.
The I Show Flag collection includes some beautiful erotic art experiments where the cast freezes a moment of intimate female pleasure when a hand stimulates the vulva.
While you’re observing that astonishing variety of shapes and sizes,
there comes a time when you try to compare your anatomy to all the others in front of you. For my part, even knowing what my vulva looked like, I found myself not so able to visualize my cast next to those already made or to compare the possible anatomical differences.
The room dedicated to the casting process is the living room, where the real star is a big L shaped couch which has contributed to the project expansion by recruiting volunteers. Travel girls from all over the world spent the night on the couch, thanks to the CouchSurfing service offered by Mirko, and then decided to use it also to have their vulva cast.
The same couch hosted, the same days I was there, an American girl who came from England (where she’s been living for one year) just to take part in the project. You can call her Libby Lawrence, the pseudonym she’s using for her blog Saluting The Sister Ship about a journey of self-discovery after 2 children, a divorce and an overseas transfer. Together, we talked about sexuality, self-confidence and body love (vulva included).
The casting process itself is quite fast and is carried out in two stages.
First, Mirko prepares the instruments, precisely and in order, wears gloves and covers the couch with a disposable hygienic film on which you’re asked to lie flat on your back.
While you’re still realising the fact you’re half naked in front of a half-stranger, all Mirko can see scanning your vulva is the form the cast will take. Occasionally, he tries to shape the labia minora like they have an inner flexible metal core and you wonder if he really believes they’ll keep that shape.
The first stage is about making a negative mould with alginate, the same non-toxic material dentists use for dental impressions. The moment water mixes with the alginate powder, Mirko enters his bubble of artist-professional-perfectionist proceeding carefully with rapid controlled movements in order to make a paste as homogeneous as possible and to pour it over the genital area with no cavities and before it starts thickening.
While you let your body perceive every temperature variation under this cold mixture running down and all hands movements to smooth the material all over the area, everything that crosses Mirko’s mind could be summarized as ‘Too watery / too bubbling / too much air / bubbles, bubbles, bubbles’. The thoughts slow down a wee bit while he’s laying plaster bindings soaked in warm water over the mould to impart rigidity, until a few minutes later, when the mould is released very carefully to keep the negative intact.
From the second cast on, I learned not to sink into discouragement if at some point Mirko started shaking his head with some thinly-veiled disappointment in his eyes and not to wonder what I was doing wrong (my position? my vulva shape? one breath too much?). That was just the expression of the ambitious and superstitious professional who tries to ward off any possible flaws and to minimise the expectations before to look at the final outcome, hoping it’s perfect. Kind of like those who, right after a university exam, start saying – I know it went bad – and then get the highest score. Difference is, you hate them a little, but not him.
The second stage is the actual cast creation with a mixture of plaster and water to be poured on the negative form. 45 minutes later, the plaster bandage and then the alginate is peeled off and an exact copy of your same vulva as always is revealed from a totally different perspective.
From that moment on, artist’s mind relaxes, becoming aware of the new artwork, while you find yourself coming to terms with an unexpected train of thoughts.
I understood I wasn’t so ready to observe that mirror made of plaster, reflecting my vulva shape, even less to recognize it as mine. It was kind of like hearing my voice on a recording for the very first time, thinking it was terrible, and stopping to listen.
In that stage of initial confusion, in front of the garden table with the casts left to dry under the sunlight (unusual situation that looked like a regular routine at that point), I couldn’t help but bounce my eyes from mine and Libby’s one, comparing its intimate shape, so symmetrical and small, to my geometry, more irregular and disorderly.
Then I intercepted a proud – That’s mine!– confidently shouted out by my smiling better half while he was looking at my cast, and there I realized that piece of plaster was me and I started growing fond of it.
Confronting Mirko and Libby, it turned out the sequence silence/denial/acceptance before the freshly made cast is repeated almost identical by all the participants.
Now, from time to time, I happen to be admiring my two casts I brought home while I’m checking the drying stage and I decide where to exhibit them. Libby will hang her one on the bathroom wall, giving to her guest a moment of contemplative privacy. I suggested to advise them with a ‘Take your time’ before to let them enter, so they feel entitled to remain there the time it takes to internalize the piece of art.
Thinking back to the experience, after hearing the views of the artist,
observing the works, becoming part of a collection of plaster vulvas, I think the project’s value lies in its ability to contribute to female body knowledge, acceptance and normalization.
For the women who participate this is a creative way to get in touch with an intimate part of themselves and learn to appreciate the uniqueness of their own bodies by looking at it from a fresh perspective.
For the first time, the female genital area is shown in an artistic and positive light and stops being just a hidden body part to be reckoned with following worries or pain, or a vulgar image associated with porn contents.
For everyone, it’s the unique opportunity to see such a variety of similar but peculiar female genital anatomies and get a sense of how a woman’s normal body really looks like past the Mons Venus.
To volunteer for the project, you have to be of age (18 yo), completely shaved in the whole genital area, and to express written consent to participate by signing an agreement with the artist.
Get in touch with Mirko and head to the green outskirts of Frankfurt, alone or along with a fellow traveller who may attend the process.
I personally shared the experience with my husband and top expert on my vulva traits, and his presence was comforting and liberating.
You also may come back home with a cast just for you, other than a good memory (cost upon request). In this case, you’re going to repeat the negative making process two times: one cast will be part of I Show Flag’s vulvas collection and the other one will be your personal piece of art to be examined during a moment of private reflection or fiercely shown off during a dinner party.