The David Nolan Gallery in New York teamed up with Francis M. Naumann Fine Art to present “The Visual Vagina”, a vulva-focused art exhibition. The art is provoking and were I in New York, I’d be giddy to check it out. (Seriously, they have a vulva yurt. The real vulva yurt is image #18 in this NSFW gallery.)
People well schooled in genital anatomy are none-too-happy with naming a vulva-centered exhibition “The Visible Vagina.” Why? A vagina is technically an invisible potential space while the vulva is the outside bits.
One was teasing:
Man, talk about false advertising. All I see here are vulvas.
Another felt a bit stronger about proper terminology:
Enough already! Unless you’re using a SPECULUM, it’s the VULVA you’re seeing. The vagina is a tube. And it’s inside.
Francis M. Naumann Fine Art and David Nolan Gallery, shame on your[sic] for proliferating this!
So Francis Naumann stepped in to defend the title:
I’m getting tired of people trying to correct the title. Of course we know the difference between the vagina and vulva (so do most kids who take sex education courses in high school), but the rapport that the show shares with Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” would have been lost. Although anatomically inaccurate, they two words have been used interchangably[sic]. All proceeds from the sale of the catalogue will go to Ensler’s not-for-profit organization, V-Day, which is devoted to preventing abuse to girls and women worldwide. All of this information is provided in the catalogue, as well as in our press release.
Fair enough Mr. Naumann, though as someone working with youth I can assure you that most teens look at me weird when I say vulva. Not really a well-known term. Also, since the show paired up with Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, I get why vagina is used.
But I suspect another reason: far less people would see the “Visible Vulva” because the term is either foreign or steeped in the feminist sexual politics of its advocates. People know what a vagina is. Not everyone knows what a vulva is.
I don’t blame them for using status quo terminology. You can’t communicate with a person if you don’t speak their language. But if art is something to provoke our critical minds and to challenge our reality, why is there no mention of vulvas on the website press release? What I would advocate is setting up a prominent info piece in the gallery that explains the difference between the two and why the distinction is important.
Aside from that, I am tickled pink that so many people are screaming “Vulva!” in response to this art show. Only referring to the hot spot between a woman’s legs as a vagina privileges penetrative sex and renders the clit, the Almighty Pleasure Button, invisible. The clit is very important. Respect the Clit. Command the Clit.