The term vagina and the image it evokes has even recently caused an entire room of Michigan politicians to burst into a seething ball of flames when it was uttered.
And vaginal images have not fared much better, following thecensorship of Leena McCall’s Portrait of Ms Ruby May, Standing by staff at London’s Mall Gallery and the arrest of female Japanese artist, Megumi Igarashi, for creating 3D image data of her own this summer.
But why does saying it and seeing its visual representations have the ability to shut so many people up and leave them squirming their way down the street, when coming into contact with one was the first thing most of us did on our way into the world?
One Huddersfield textile artist, Kashika Ashley Cooper, has set out to find out why and break down the taboo surrounding the body part along the way.
She’s six months into a long-term project, VJJTextiles, to create ‘an archive of fannies’, which she hopes will de-stigmatise vaginas to the extent that you could talk about them whilst having afternoon tea with your nan.
“So many people have a problem with talking about and seeing images of vaginas and I just wanted to find out what was the issue with them.
“For most women, their vagina only really comes into play properly when they push a baby out through them but I want younger people who’ve not been through that to create a better identity with their own and give more power to the fanny.
“So I used my background in textiles as a way of encouraging dialogue around them and coaxing people to express themselves through them.
“Since then it’s just spiralled and now I’m obsessed with the topic. People sometimes think it’s odd that I talk about them so much but I don’t care any more and it helps to break down the taboo.”
Her first stop was to coax people into drawing their own interpretation and create new identities for vaginas that position themselves away from connotations of lewd and more towards something positive.
Kashika is particularly interested in questioning the use of language to describe vaginas, where she says a happy medium can be hard to find.
“The different terms we use to label vaginas intrigues me. Vagina sounds so clinical, some offend people so much it’s impossible to use it and others don’t sound like vaginas at all. I prefer the term fanny.”
Participants at her workshops are presented with a diagram of a vagina she drew, with labels which they fill in themselves.
“I want people to use their imaginations to give them their own identity.
“But what I’ve also found out is how amazingly little most people, myself included, really know about vaginas, even if they have one.”
They are also given a blank sheet of paper on which to draw their own vaginal etchings from memory, and without the need to get out the hand mirrors.
“It’s just a lot of fun. I think the best way to get people talking about a subject like this is to do it in a light-hearted way-glitter pens and Pritt Stick help.”
She already has a book full of the efforts of past contributors, which range from stick man sketches to designs with frogs dancing and holding balloons in the vagina entrance.
“I told people to draw whatever they wanted. It celebrates the diversity of vaginas and shows that there is no ‘wrong’ look to one.
“It challenges public perceptions of vaginas and tackles their misrepresentation in our culture.”
Her own range of work is also put on display at the events, which she has made using laser printed fabric design. This includes square cuts of cloth with 1950s style patterns, some of which have a look that could find them easily making their way onto the living room walls of unwitting occupants. She has also released a range of postcards, one of which was addressed to her own grandma.
“I think they are at the same time nostalgic yet challenging.
“I was inspired by abstract designer, Lucienne Day, and replaced her styles with vaginas, which included flowers, which I think they have a lot in common with.
“Women used to express their feminity with flowers but why not use vaginas to do the same thing now a days?”
She has also created a series of pinafores, dubbed ‘pinny porn’, which are cvered in Rodchenko-like constructivist vaginas, drawn to scale using measurements given by willing members of the public.
“I’m not sure if I could sell them ethically though because the designs were created by real women-it seems to me almost like I’d be prostituting them
“Society encourages us to consider vaginas as a deeply private part of ourselves yet at the same time there exists such an enormous amount of social ritual around them, which can focus on very narrow ways of how they should look.”
She hopes to eventually move into home wares and has dreams of creating a full tea set, as well as continuing to collect public contributions, before exhibiting her entire project later on.
“It’s quite tongue in cheek but the end of the day it’s a serious subject and my aim is to get people talking about vaginas more openly.”
For more information on Kashika’s project, go to: http://www.facebook.com/vjjtextiless