WARNING! This post deals with material of mature subject matter. You should be 18 or older to continue reading.
Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko or 6D745, has been making headlines all over the world with her artwork featuring female genitalia. She gave a talk last Saturday at the Sunday Cafe. That in itself is kind of funny.
As part of the First Saturday series, Tomoko Ashikawa from the Waitingroom gallery acted as the host while Chieko Tanaka from Ganka Garou and Megumi Igarashi discussed recent events, including an upcoming show at the Opthomologist’s Gallery (Ganka Garou 眼科画廊). All gave their impressions of recent events, including the artwork, police raids, and the ongoing court case. Nobody had expected the case to go as far as it had!
For those of you who have no idea of who Igarashi is and what the big deal is, here is a photo to jog your memory. Yes, she is the vagina kayak lady. I have posted about her before and will not get into the details here, but leave it to 3DPrint to fill in the details.
After the police raided the Ganka Garou (which is named after an art movement but often uses the direct translation o fits name: Opthomologist’s gallery), Igarashi was taken into custody and placed in jail. Yes, that’s right. JAIL! She was declared not guilty of the more severe obscenity charges but fined for the digital transmission of the 3D scan of her genitalia probably because she sent them to people who gave her money as part of her crowdfunding efforts to fund the kayak project. Everything changes when you start charging money for it. As mansplained in an article in the Japan Times, the crime could not be specifically related to a woman’s genitals, especially since Japan has many fertility shrines and festivals although most feature phallic symbols. The fact that she displayed her vulva and vagina for all to see might have made all the old men who had the power and controlled everything very angry, but the charge against her had to be something else, something more legal. Why her and not the ubiquitous porn magazines or sexualized manga comics? Other people or groups faced the same charges in the past but paid the fines; Igarashi said she was not guilty and refused to pay. That probably infuriated the men in power even more! She was not playing the role of a meek, docile woman! She was disagreeing with them and expressing an opinion! Sometimes with all the news these days you really have to wonder what century we are living in.
Do you doubt this version? Have you seen her art? Does the kayak look obscene to you? It looks like a brightly coloured kayak to me.
Igarashi made a plaster cast of genital area and then decorated it with paint, glitter, small figurines, and other objects. It might be kawaii or cute, but it does not look obscene to me.
She encouraged other women to make casts of their genitalia and decorate them, calling them deko man. It is a shortened form of decorated manko with manko being the Japanese slang word for vulva or pussy (not the feline kind). Igarashi wants to do away with the negativity that women feel about their bodies, especially their genitals. As discussed with the Huffington Post, Igarashi had had such a negative image of her own body before starting these projects that she herself had undergone vaginal rejuvenation.
She also encouraged people to download Manko-chan and use her comic character in their own projects. These were digital manko or deji man. How on earth can such a pink cutie be regarded as obscene?
These are a few of the items that the police confiscated as evidence of the obscene nature of her work: decorated casts, phone cases, and robot figurines. Somebody somewhere must have not liked her or her art to go this far. Both the artist and the gallery remember being surprised when they were first told they were being investigated. It did not seem possible!
As a Canadian living in Japan, I profess that I do not understand why her art is being so censored. In Japanese, -ko is a suffix often added to words to make them sound cute and/or more feminine. I understand that pussy or manko are slang and not technical terms such as female genitalia or joseiki (女性器) or anatomical terms such as vulva or vagina. During the artist’s talk and panel discussion, Igarashi was the only one to use the slang. The other women on the panel used the phrase joseiki. The judge in her case scolded her when she used the slang and told her to refrain from using such language in his court. Who else is reminded of Vagina Gate in recent American politics?
I repeat my question: what century is this?
The Vagina Monologues were written in 1996. (Gasp! I thought they were written even earlier!) Even in the United States, penises, phallic symbols, and porn might be everywhere but vaginas as supposed to remain hidden. Tell that to the mansplainers!
Wait! It gets weirder. Girls cannot say manko (pussy), but boys are allowed to say chin chin (willy). Crayon Shin Chan is a popular cartoon that has been translated and shown all over the world. Watching this is how several of my friends and I learned how to say penis in Japanese soon after we first came to Japan. Many of his jokes have sexual innuendoes that are quite blatant. At the end of this clip, he shows his penis in all its glory. He also sings the Zo-san song when he pretends that his penis is an elephant’s trunk. He is also overly concerned with female underwear and breasts. Sound like many adult men in Japan? This cartoon would be classified as child pornography in Finland but is children’s viewing material in Japan. This is okay but Rokudenashiko’s work is not?
Can the angry old men in power not see that her work is art and possibly even satirical at that? I am sure that none of those men would disagree that Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers (cropped version of her painting on the left) were art even though her flowers have suffered from people’s assumptions that her flowers were pictures of female genitalia. An art teacher was dismissed in the United States when she used the word vagina to discuss O’Keefe’s paintings. (I cannot make these things up!) Susan Rothenberg (cropped version of her print on the right) is an artist known for her prints that look vaginal to me. She is also one of the artists in the current show at the Tokyo Station gallery. I have not seen the show yet so I do not know what pieces of hers were selected.
Remember that mansplainer in the Japan Times? How does he account for the fact that Instagram routinely censors how the female body is shown? Yes, the Western media has their problems with the female body but they did rally around Megumi Igarashi and her cause. That international attention may have been to her advantage during her trial, because the Japanese courts knew that the world was watching. Igarashi herself expressed great thanks to people elsewhere acknowledging that she was not making obscene items. Why? In Japan she was persona non grata; nobody wanted to talk to her after the government declared her to be a troublemaker.
For the panel discussion at the Sunday Cafe, I rallied the troops and showed up early to ensure seats. I had been to another lecture earlier that week at a large art museum in Ueno and was turned away at first because of the large crowds. (Thank goodness my friend mentioned talking to somebody in the office about reserving seats.) Igarashi was in the news much more than a Nobel Prize winner who researched flatworms. If people came in droves to hear an elderly man talk, surely the expected audience for this lecture would be equally as large, right? Wrong! My friends and I must have made up about 1/3 of the audience. Where were the politicos fighting the censorship that seems all too common these days in Japan? Where were the other artists offering their support? Where were the feminists? If this had happened in Winnipeg, I guarantee that the room would have been filled. The event, First Saturdays, itself would have been sold out regardless of the speakers. (The Winnipeg art community has First Fridays, and those events are often sold out.) Given that these issues were currently in the news, you would think that more people would have been there. Yes, the event was poorly advertised but most events in Tokyo are. The Tokyo artist community should have been there to offer support for another artist fighting censorship. Women artists should have been there instead of drawing pornographic comics that degrade women and attempting to pass them off as art in the various Tokyo galleries that cater to that crowd. Where was everybody? The Tokyo art community should be ashamed of themselves.
The foreign residents, male and female, showed their support. I am proud of how my friends and their friends listened respectfully and then asked intelligent and interesting questions. After the panel discussion, Igarashi talked to individuals and showed them how to make the secret sign of the manko.
If you see anybody with their palms pressed together and their thumbs in between the palms, you know that they are members of the Vagina Sisterhood. The next time Igarashi goes to court to appeal the obscenity charges regarding those digital files, everybody should go to court and sit there making this sign. The judge might kick everybody out but…
Megumi Igarashi aka Rokudenashiko has a show in which she spoofs elections starting next Friday, July 8, 2016 at the Shinjuku Ganka Garou. The reception is free and starts at 4:00 on Saturday, July 9, 2016. To drink wine for free and to show the artist that you support her cause, please attend. Don’t forget to vote for the Manko party!
PS I hope I will not go to jail after posting this!