Female genitalia have long been a source of fascination, recently of celebration but generally of confusion. Step in British artist Jamie McCartney who has grasped the nettle to create a monumental wall sculpture all about this most intimate of places. Half a decade since its humble beginnings, The Great Wall of Vagina has enticed women from all over the world to volunteer to be cast in an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the project.
The nine metre long, multi-panelled artwork consists of four hundred plaster casts of vulvas, all of them unique, arranged into ten large panels. McCartney set out to make this project as broad and inclusive as possible. The age range of the women is from 18 to 76. Included are mothers and daughters, identical twins, transgendered men and women as well as a woman pre and post natal and another one pre and post labiaplasty.
It’s not vulgar, it’s vulva! This isn’t just sensation, it is art with a social conscience and McCartney wants people to stop, look and listen. This is about grabbing the attention, using humour and spectacle, and then educating people about what normal women really look like ‘down there’. Described as “the Vagina Monologues of sculpture” this piece is intended to change the lives of women, forever.
“For many women their genital appearance is a source of anxiety and I was in a unique position to do something about that.”
Vulvas and labia are as different as faces and many people, particularly women, don’t seem to know that. McCartney hopes this sculpture will help to quell that anxiety and combat the exponential rise, seen in recent years, of cosmetic labial surgeries. This worrying trend to create ‘perfect’ vaginas is essentially consensual female genital mutilation and sets a worrying precedent for future generations of women.
The Great Wall of Vagina makes for fascinating and revealing viewing which is a far cry from pornography. It is not erotic art. It is not about titillation. McCartney has pulled off an amazing trick, to deliberately make the sexual nonsexual. One is able to stare without shame but in wonder and amazement at this exposé of human variety.
Art has the power to transcend social barriers by using a visual language that is universal. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, no matter what language you speak. You assimilate the information in seconds, before you have a chance to look away. With any political stance you often find yourself preaching to the converted – many of those who don’t agree have switched off before you finish the first sentence. The title The Great Wall of Vagina is deliberately whimsical and intriguing. It will attract attention without putting people off in the first instance.
“It’s time our society grew up around these issues and I’m certain that art has a role to play.” Jamie McCartney