Blacks / Images / Masculinity / Men / Race / Sexuality / Women

The Great Wall of Vagina and the Black Penis Project

Last year at the Open Society’s Money, Sex, Power Forum held in May in Cape Town, I suggested to a well-known photographer a collaborative photo-documentary visual project on hundreds penises were we to get money to undertake such work.

I was pleasantly surprised when, despite expressing a few reservations about what her established audiences would say about her interest in straight men, she almost immediately agreed. She is known for her work on black lesbians and other queer subjects.

I referred again to the desire to photographs hundreds of penises at the Work/Force: Masculinity and the Media Conference convened ate Stellenbosch University in September by Dr Stella Viljoen.  I still don’t have the money. I have a camera. But I will not do artistic justice to the project even if I found willing subjects. I will never be able to bring to life my wish to have a bank of photos of many black penises until I have more than just a man a camera. Only a tiny wish remained alive.

But then I chanced upon the Great Wall of Vagina. Something like a tiny hope has be rekindled that the black penis project is doable and not a self-indulgent wish after all. It may come to pass still, maybe. The bottom line is that the project again seems somewhat important.

Great Wall of Vagina 1

Great Wall of Vagina 1

I learnt of the Great Wall of Vagina very late. It was only earlier this year while reading an article on or by Naomi Wolf which made reference to the art work. The vagina sculptures are the work of British artist Jamie McCartney. He says the final work was the culmination of five years’ worth of work. The Great Wall of Vagina is made of 400 casts of vaginas. You should watch the Clips of the Making of the Great Wall of Vagina here. They are actually great.

Wall of Vagina, 2

Great Wall of Vagina 2

To hear women talking about the bodies in this way gives voice to what I imagine will form part of the little essay I am working on I’m calling Feminism for Black Boys. It’s liberating, it really is. Not the article, though I hope it contributes to that feeling of freedom. Not black boy feminism, although I think all boys can be saved by black feminism. Talking. Talking about privates in public like that can be liberating.

And it is not only for women, this kind of freedom. Try it. Tell your friends and work-mates about this work about vaginas and an African man going on about how men learning to talk about their penis in a less macho and more frank way frank can be freeing.      

Far from being anything close to what some men might pay to see women stripping at a gentlemen’s club, the Great Wall of Vagina is touching and quite meaningful too.

It’s really not about vaginas, even though vaginas are all there is to see.

It is not only feminist, sex-positive, and art-inclined women who are interested in seeing vaginas depicted thus. Men of all stripes, but those who run the world especially, should be interested in this work for its comments on why designer vaginas, labiaplasty, and bikini waxes have become increasingly popular among a women young and old and what all of this has to do with femininities, women’s idea what men want, sex, masculinities, and men views of women’s bodies.

My own interest in private parts arose from the controversy that followed Brett Murray’s art work The Spear. The Spear depicted president Jacob Zuma with his penis exposed. How curious was that fight over the president’s penis. One even started to think the whole event was a contemporary art performance staged by the South African Department of Arts and Culture in collaboration with the African National Congress to raise the flagging support of Jacob Zuma, while giving arts more relevance and a legitimate role in society sold on capitalist neoliberal ideas.

Even then, the way the spectacle played out in the media was unhelpful the way the African National Congress’ reaction to a piece of actually unremarkable work. It made me wonder whether it is ever possible for art, any piece of artistic creation, to be provocative and culturally constructive and yet against racist insults and ethnocentrism. Is it possible, I wanted to know, to be against a certainty that tends to inform a particular form of dominant whiteness and yet against homogenising claims about Africanness?

I think it is possible to occupy such a position. Hard but possible; and necessary even. It is a position I found my mind reaffirming. Whenever opportunity arises, it is an intellectual position I have sought to speak for with a bolder voice.

In regard to working on the penis project, what this position encourages is the view that black penises in particular, and black sexualities generally, are stereotyped. The stereotypes of “the black penis” results in black men’s sexual lives imbued with all kinds of negative characteristics and mythical properties. The fact is that while researchers produce all kinds of data and explanations about black sexualities we are actually still very ignorant about as simple a matter as the great variety of African penises and vaginas in the world. Fact: black men’s penises come in all colours, shapes, lengths, widths. Some penises are almost pink in colour. There are the thick ones. Others are long. There are smiley ones. Then you find the stubby ones, the circumcised, the thin, the venous, the hooded. Few are straight. There are so many varieties.    

Jamie McCartney has made penis casts too. We need more penises on display, I think.  We need to make black penises unexciting, to de-alienate them, make them less strange. However, I am more interested in unerect penises.

Wall of Penises

Wall of Penises

3 thoughts on “The Great Wall of Vagina and the Black Penis Project

  1. Pingback: RIGHT OF ADMITION (IS STILL) RESERVED… | Between The Lines

  2. Its eye catching didn’t know that walls like these did exist in out penis. My thinking was it was just meant just for fucking. That goes with the vagina as well

  3. Its eye catching didn’t know that walls like these did exist in our penis. My thinking was it was just meant for fucking. That goes with the vagina as well

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