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The other day a video popped up on a friend’s Facebook feed. It featured a small image of what appeared to be a t-shirt on a mannequin. There was a big, blurry circle in the mannequin’s crotch area.

Next to it was this headline: controversial window display in Halifax, N.S. turns heads. Figuring it might involve pubic hair, I could resist clicking the link. I wasn’t wrong. (you can watch it for yourself here).

It took me to a news segment that aired earlier this week on CTV news in Halifax. Before running the item, host Steve Murphy looks at the audience and says “we caution you that some of you may find this offensive, and it may not be appropriate for younger viewers.”

Which is what made the item so extra hilarious. In short: it’s a very short news item about an “art installation” that’s getting “mixed reviews” in a store-front window on Barrington Street in downtown Halifax. Apparently a whole whack of people are incredibly offended by it and there’s a petition circulating to have the work taken down. The news item, which is shabbily put together, clips a couple of people talking about how terrible they find it, along with a few who shrug their shoulders and say they don’t really know what it’s about. While the item fails to credit the artist entirely, it does clip the curator, Scott Saunders, who makes a couple of valid points about how there is much more offensive stuff going on  in the windows of the sex shops down the street. He says the work is about “Canadian identity, sexual politics, and the idea of Canadiana.”

At no point do we ever get to see what everyone is so upset about because of the HUGE, BLURRY CIRCLE shielding us from the display’s horrors.

Well here, ladies and gentlemen, is what the news needed to protect you from:

That’s right: a mannequin wearing a T-shirt reading “Canada: Go Beavers!” and a furry, pubic-hair-esque loin cloth. Though she is not mentioned in the controversy, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the artist is Bonita Hatcher, a NSCAD grad.

Here’s a wider view of the entire window:

(Sorry it’s so small! Halifax’s alt weekly, The Coast, posted a great photo to Instagram, too). 

Curious to know more (and so thoroughly dissatisfied by the news item), I booked a call with the artist.

Our chat was wonderful – hilarious, energizing, and informative. Bonita immediately filled in some of the blanks around the window work for me. Firstly, the news item omitted some significant details: most significantly, that the beaver featured in the lower left hand corner of the window IS COMPLETELY SHORN! That’s right – in what sounds like a painstaking process, she SHAVED A TAXIDERMY BEAVER. She then cut up a bit of an old (beaver) fur coat, adorned a particularly phallic piece of it with red ribbons, and turned it into a loin cloth. She had the T-shirt created especially. Though it’s hard to read at first, the beaver in the image is hairless.

Bonita, who is in her early 40s with a background in marine biology, was as appalled as anyone by the upset her piece had elicited among Haligonians. She said she was most fascinated by the fact that there was nothing ACTUALLY offensive in what she had created — a shorn beaver, a furry merkin, and a printed t-shirt. It was, she pointed out, up to viewers to make connections if they wanted to – and in order to do so, one had to be properly equipped (a shorn beaver, for example, has no meaning in itself unless you know that ‘beaver’ is a slang term for a woman’s genitalia).

While Bonita told me she hadn’t sought out to make a statement about pubic hair (in fact, the shorn beaver was originally part of a larger piece addressing ‘Canadiana’), normalized pubic hair removal among women has fascinated her for some time. She described re-entering the dating scene after the end of her marriage and coming to terms with what a ‘Brazilian’ was (“it took me awhile to figure out what it was,” she recalled, “I remember going ‘oh-my-god, are you kidding me?’ In my mind, if I had a hair caught in the elastic of my underwear I would cry.”

For Bonita, who only started making art as an adult has always been interested in feminist art and performance. In one of her first performances at art school, she cut off her clothes and painted herself with latex. “I got that stuff out of the way,” she laughs, later wearing a wedding dress 24-hours a day for a week in a bid to explore the idea that traditional female wedding garb serves to cover the body from head to toe and restrict movement.

I don’t even think that Bonita has a precise grasp on what she was trying to say to the world with her “controversial” window display — but she definitely managed to make a statement. The shorn beaver is visually clever, the phallic merkin, provocative. It’s not entirely clear whether we are supposed to celebrate the hairless beast and lament the loss of his fur, or whether we should be re-embracing our own Canadian short-n-curlies, but in a sense it really doesn’t matter. The work does (as Bonita intended) start a conversation that is definitely worth having.

Bonita also let slip that she’s intended to start selling her “go beavers’ T-shirts. I can’t wait to stroll the streets of my city in it this summer. No blurry circle required.

 

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I have to thank Betty, a reader in France, for sending me today’s link. She wrote to let me know about a French artist who has been making plush vaginas (or “doudouchattes”) complete with real fur (she also makes meat-shaped plush things, along with voodoo dolls):

http://ledoudouduboucher.ultra-book.com/portefolio

And nope- not one of these fuzzy little cuties is hairless. That could be because, as Betty points out, “here in France we are not so much victims of the pubic hair related depreciation of the woman, but soon without doubt we will be.”

Trust the French to bring us stylish little vaginas we can actually cuddle up to.

 

 

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Vagina Love/Hate

embroidered vagina

Two interesting articles for consideration today. This one, that appeared it yesterday’s Globe and Mail, is about how women are pursuing labiaplasty even when they are ‘normal’ “down there”. I’ve written about labiaplasty before: that’s when women have (unnecessary) cosmetic surgery to make their inner labia smaller (ie. more child/barbie doll-like). The article suggests that most women are seeking out the surgery to “improve their appearance” (sorry for all the quotation marks, but I find it hard to write those words without pointing out how silly they are), though some women argue it’s also due to physical discomfort.

I know I’ve said it before, but if we weren’t all so caught up in banishing our pubic hair, our labia would get to hang out and do its thing in true comfort, rather than being stripped bare for scrutiny.

(ahrg!)

And after all that body-hate, some vag-love:

Today’s London Evening Standard includes this story about “a new frankness about vaginas” in which the writer goes on about a movement geared towards celebrating all things vaginal (while also drawing my attention to a disturbing new word for female genitalia – “clunge”).

The author suggests that the trend towards vaginally themed crafts, drawing classes and pop-cultural frankness on the subject is “a reaction against the tyranny of waxing and vajazzling – porn chic culture where young men surfing the internet see only hairless models and are therefore surprised to discover that young women have pubic hair.”

Lots to consider. I can’t wait for your comments.

 

 

 

 

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Those of you who are new to this blog may not be familiar with the series of drawings that Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce has been doing especially for The Last Triangle. She’s finding her inspiration in what she reads here, and then lets her imagination roam, coming up with ideas and images that push boundaries.

I haven’t posted one of Julie’s images for some time now, but I am very pleased that I am able to feature one today.

In creating this image, Julie says she was inspired by something I wrote about virgin waxing — and her imagining what it would be like if all the kids who got virgin waxes as kids grew up to realize they wanted to re-embrace their body hair after all.

Julie writes:

Here it is! The Future! Newly Created Consumer Demand!

It is the year 2035. Millions of little girls were given the virgin wax treatment, and as they grew up, they found they really wanted to have pubic hair!

They became angry because they weren’t given a choice!

A hair dresser by the name of Steinberg Rosamund Lenoir (Rosy L is her nick-name) invents the fashion trend that becomes all the rage! Why have a little hair when you can have a whole lot, thanks to the miracle of super growth injections in any colour desired.

Just shoot yourself up anywhere you want to have fur (in any hue!) and watch that beautiful hair grow, grow, grow!

Pictured here: the distribution most women favour: a little bit of mystery, a little bit of cheek…a whole lot of elegance!

 

For more of Julie’s drawings, click on the Julie Voyce tag in the tag cloud to the left…

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Those of you who are regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Toronto artist Julie Voyce’s work. She has been creating a special series of works inspired by my writing here at The Last Triangle. Though we were on a brief art-hiatus here on the blog – Julie is back with another fabulous drawing.

This fine young woman is celebrating ‘Julyna’ (or so Julie tells me) with a “neat little American wax,” and “Henna embellishment extending beyond the pubic area” (that’s because the campaign’s organizers have suggested that Henna or Vajazzling are good options for those women who may no longer have much pubic hair due to laser hair removal, etc).

Enjoy!

 

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I don’t usually get a whole lot of mail (I get even less now that Canada Post is on strike, meaning mail service is down to about three days-a-week), but today was different. This morning I opened up my wee black box to find a small brown enveloped addressed to me.

I was thrilled. That’s because I already knew what it was.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a woman thanking me for my writing on this blog. Her note really made my day – not only because it was complimentary, but because it was a solid reminder that there are actually people reading and relating to the stuff that I write.

“It is a beacon of light in the sea of message boards discussing pubic hair as it relates to hygiene,” she wrote. She then explained that this blog had been “instrumental” in her own search for “peace around the topic,” which she said had got her “fired up enough that I made a ‘zine.”

Because she mentioned The Last Triangle in her ‘zine, she told me she wanted to send me a copy.

And that’s what I received this morning.

Needless to say, her ‘zine, “Lady Gardens” is an incredibly charming little publication (I almost wrote ‘publication’, which is an entirely different sort of beast…) Complete with hand-drawn text and illustrations, her little ‘zine explores some of the issues around pubic hair (similar to stuff that I talk about here) and then polls women in her life for their views on the topic.

She starts off by telling us about a male friend who once mentioned that “nearly every girl he’d been with had been hairless.” That nugget of information then prompted her research — starting with Google where her search using “why has having no pubes become so fashionable” begot her the usual discussion on “whether or not ladies should shave or wax.”

“It wasn’t until I stuck in the term ‘gender politics’ that I unearthed anything worthwhile,” she writes, then describing happening on this site, The Last Triangle. “Her blog was exactly the kind of resource I was looking for.” (Isn’t that such a great thing! I was so touched to read that — and she actually refers to my blog throughout her publication).

If you’d like to read more, you can buy the ‘zine online. Here’s a link to Etsy where (if you’re in the USA) you can buy it (I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do if you aren’t).

http://www.etsy.com/listing/75443484/lady-gardens-zine?ref=sr_gallery_1&ga_search_query=%26quot%3Blady+gardens%26quot%3B&ga_search_submit=&ga_search_type=handmade&ga_category=books_and_zines.zine.nonfiction&ga_facet=

I’ll say it again – it means so much to me that people are reading and engaging with the content – whether they send me evidence or not. I’m so glad these conversations are happening!

More soon.

 

 

 

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So this week, the internet was (very mildly) abuzz over a new (supposed) trend in penile adornment: pejazzling. Gawker, the popular celebrity news website reported that you can now ‘Vajazzle’ your penis. Read that story here:

http://gawker.com/5803380/pejazzling-now-you-can-vajazzle-your-penis

(and hey- if that wasn’t enough for you, here’s an image you won’t soon forget:)

http://www.refinery29.com/you-know-vajazzling-well-get-psyched-for-pejazzling

For those of you who don’t keep tabs on what the Swarovski crystal people think you should be doing with your nether region, here’s the idiot’s guide:

‘Vajazzling’ is the practice of waxing away your pubic hair only to have it replaced by stick-on crystals in various patterns. Word is that this strange phenomenon is gathering something of a following (at least in North America), with fans apparently declaring that practice makes them feel like they have a sparkly secret hidden beneath their briefs.

For anyone not up on their useless pop culture, Vajazzling first hit the big time when actress Jennifer Love Hewitt appeared on Lopez Tonight, an American talk show, to promote her new biography (Jan 2010). There she famously told Lopez and the audience about having a friend Vajazzle her “precious lady” when she was trying to get over a nasty break-up. Love Hewitt made headlines by declaring that it “shined like a disco ball” , later declaring that all women should “vajazzle their va-jay-jays”.

Got two minutes to spare? This will get you all caught up:

Word is that the stick-on crystals last about five days, and that women who wear ‘em feel all kinds of special-and-sparkly.

(Don’t believe me? http://www.theluxuryspot.com/2010/02/23/i-got-vajazzled-and-had-a-camera-crew/ )

I don’t think there’s anything new I can add to this conversation on Vajazzling. After all, in a culture where women are forever being convinced that their intimate bits are gross and dirty, it makes perfect sense that we’d devise a product/service that could make everything “prettier” and more sparkly. After all, girls like sparkly things, right? right? Maybe if our vulvas are sparkly we’ll like them better, too!

(And come to think of it, maybe that’s why men are being encouraged to get in on the sparkle-fication, too…)

Speaking of which:

Hilariously, artist Julie Voyce had bedazzled some boy bits long before the splashy news about Pejazzling. Here’s the evidence:

 

 

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Ack- I totally forgot about my every-other-week, original-art-Fridays! Here, for your viewing pleasure, is yet another drawing by Toronto-based artist Julie Voyce. They are all part of a series she is creating especially for The Last Triangle.

Today we feature a happy couple with well-tended hair and great shoes.

Missed Julie’s other great images? check ’em out here and here.

 

 

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Just in case anyone missed this image lurking in yesterday’s comments section (thanks, Lara!):

http://www.flickr.com/photos/basileus/307529934/

This is a image called the “EU Panties” by Serbian performance artist Tanja Ostoji?. It’s a satire of Courbet’s L’Origine du Monde (see yesterday’s blog post) — only this time it’s the artist’s own, underwear-clad nether regions. The work, created in December 2005, is said to comment on the idea that foreign women are only welcome in Europe when they drop their drawers.

 

 

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Those of you keeping up with this blog regularly will know a couple of things about it: 1) that I am keeping it as part of my Master’s thesis research, and 2) that I am most driven by the question of how we got to the current state of the widespread normalization of pubic hair removal among young, North American women.

Obviously, that statement cuts a wide, generalizing swath: there are all kinds of variations among body hair practices in this part of the world, and they are all impacted by a huge number of forces, including things like (but not limited to) race, class and religion, as well as factors like exposure to pornography and the tendency to read fashion magazines.

But obviously, pubic hair removal is not a new phenomenon for women. Though now widely hailed in mainstream culture as the preferred manner for dealing with the pesky, pheromone-laden stuff stuff, pubic hair has come and gone from fashion over the years.

As Merran Toerien and Sue Wilkinson write in their 2003 article “Gender and Body Hair: Constructing the Feminine Woman” (published in Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 26, No. 4) “accounts of women’s hair removal come from ancient times and diverse cultures, including ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the Tobriand Islands, Uganda, South America and Turkey.”

According to a 2009 article by Sarah Ramsey, Clare Sweeney, Michale Fraser and Gren Oades called “Pubic Hair and Sexuality: A Review” (published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2009) most of what we know about early pubic hair practices has been gleaned through art. In Ancient Egyptian art, women are depicted with “small triangles of pubic hair, with bronze razors placed in tombs for the afterlife.” They also write that “relics from Ancient Greece clearly illustrate body shaving of some form, and Sharia law advised the removal of all body hair.”

Female pubic hair doesn’t make an appearance in European art until the late 19th Century when the Spanish painter Goya added some discreet fuzz to his work “The Naked Maja.”

Francisco Goya, The Naked Maja c. 1800-1803

Before then, nudes tended to be completely hairless — though the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear. Art critic John Berger, however, does have some thoughts (which do seem to make sense).

In his book Ways of Seeing (first published in 1972 after a television series of the same name), Berger makes all kinds of (sort of obvious, but still relevant) statements about how “women are taught, from their earliest childhood, to survey themselves.”

“She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to others, and ultimately how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another.” (p. 46)

This, he reasons, then affects how women function in the world. Men, he suggests, “act” where women “appear.” “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. the surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

Ok- thanks Mr. Berger (I’m sure your saying to yourself). But what does this have to do with art — or pubic hair, for that matter?

Well as Berger explains (and certainly, he’s not the first or only) the nude women depicted in the vast majority of European paintings (the stuff we all growing up uncritically understanding to be ‘great art’ regardless of our gender) are “performing their nakedness” for an audience of male spectators. Citing art historian Kenneth Clark, Berger writes “nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display.”

The spectator (for whom the nude is on display) is presumed to be male (as female viewers, our looking is quite different). She may not have her clothes on, but her nakedness has nothing to do with her own sexuality. Instead, she is appealing to his sexuality. She is just a body, an object, a beautiful thing to behold.

And here’s where it comes back to pubic hair. As Berger writes:

“In the European traditional generally, the convention of not painting the hair on a woman’s body helps towards the same end. Hair is associated with sexual power, with passion. the woman’s sexual passion needs to be minimized so that the spectator may feel that he has the monopoly of such passion.) Women are there to feed an appetite, not to have any of their own.” (p.55)

Gustav Courbet, L'Origine du Monde, 1866

With that in mind, it’s interesting to consider this painting by Gustav Courbet. ‘L’Origine du monde’ (the Origin of the World) was painted in 1866. Hugely controversial at the time, it is largely considered to be the first portrayal of female pubic hair on an adult body in European painting.

Of course, while this body has hair, she has no head or other body parts. Rather than a coy look towards the viewer, she is reduced to her genitalia…

 

 

 

 

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