On May 10, I was privileged to attend the opening of Skin Deep by Jamie McCartney at London’s Hay Hill Gallery. The exhibition got a lot of attention, as it marked the unveiling of The Great Wall of Vagina, a series of plaster moulds of real women’s vaginas.
Over five years in the making, the wall features women from all over the world with a range of backgrounds and life experiences, their ages spanning from 18 to 76. Among the participants are identical twins, transgendered men and women, virgins, sex workers, one woman both pre and postnatal, and one before and after labiaplasty. When I first interviewed McCartney in 2010, he was hoping to find a participant who had experienced genital cutting. Unfortunately, he was not able to do so before the project was completed.
There was also a glass mould of the inside of a vagina, a truly spectacular sight.
The exhibition was amazing to see. Over 400 vaginas, and no two alike. What surprised me most was all the piercings. A remarkable number of the participants had their vaginas pierced – some with a small bar through the clit, others with a dozen hoops along either side of the lip, one with two huge rings that resembled testicles.
The variations between the different vaginas were truly astounding. It really hammered home the message that there is no such thing as the perfect vagina. Each is unique to the person it’s attached to.
As we wandered between the panels of vaginas hung along the gallery walls, my friend asked if, were my own vagina up there, do I think I’d be able to spot it? I realized, a bit ashamedly, that the answer is a definitive no. I’m sure, like the majority of women, I wouldn’t be able to recognize the thing that’s been between my legs for my entire life, but I bet any man could pick his penis out of a lineup.
In addition to a dozen or so panels varying in size and price from ten vaginas (£2,250) to 70 vaginas (£6,500), was a panel featuring casts of 16 erect penises. McCartney explained that, just as his motive with the vagina casts was to dispel anxieties women have about their vaginas being unattractive or abnormal, the penis wall was about fighting the insecurities many men have about their members as a result of the unrealistic images they are exposed to through pornography. While we often hear of stories about boys comparing themselves in the locker room, most men have never seen another man’s erection in the flesh. While interesting, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the penises displayed seemed to be on the large side and could potentially trigger insecurity among lesser-endowed patrons.
There’s a light-hearted tone to the exhibition. McCartney does a great job freeing his subject matter of the eroticism and secrecy that often constrains attitudes toward genitalia and promoting self-acceptance.
Skin Deep will be showing in the Hay Hill Gallery until June 2. Admission is free.
It’s always encouraging to know someone who’s found success at a young age in the writing industry. I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Jane Cassidy a few months ago through a mutual friend, and was impressed that someone only a few years older than myself was working full-time as a writer.
Tonight, I’m looking forward to attending the launch of Cassidy’s second book, Eighteen Kisses, and had the added privilege of meeting her to discuss it.