VAGINA! There! I said it!
I was invited to the opening night of a new art installation in August, at the former women’s prison at Constitution Hill, in Joburg’s CBD, just off of Joubert Street, down the road from the brand new office park, if you reach the Hilton, you’ve gone too far. Got it?
Anyway! The main installation is a giant, red, spongy, screaming, laughing vagina! First, you start with removing your shoes (this is important, I’ll explain just now). The entrance, surrounded by black pubes, starts with a tongue, as you walk down the textured passage towards the light at the end, the yoni (Sanskrit for vagina) lets out a deafening scream. With the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention, and your heart punching a hole through your ribs, she then laughs at you… You timid little man… Reaching the inner sanctum (a place most men spend a lot of time pondering), a wild haired portrait of Reshma, sticking her tongue out (reminiscent of the entrance to the yoni), stares you down. Off to the one side are two alcoves, one with cane knives hanging from the roof (for the Indians, think Bush-knife Bobby). I also noticed a uvula (the little dangly thing at the entrance to your throat).
Welcome to the Two Talking Yonis – a solo exhibition by Reshma Chhiba.
While putting on my shoes again, another reveller commented that he hadn’t seen the entrance as a yoni, but rather like a mouth of a man with a goatee… Which is entirely plausible too, and as he had a black moustache, I guess this looked familiar to. That is not to say he looks like a doos in the true sense of the word. He is a wonderful man, and the father of my girlfriend, so no disrespect intended at all.
But this was the intention of the installation. Reshma described it as “It’s a screaming vagina within a space that once contained women and stifled women. It’s revolting against this space… mocking this space”. This is pertinent. As she also mentioned, men can talk at length about how big our dicks are. We can do this sitting at lunch, at a restaurant, with our grandparents at the table. But mention a girl’s nether-regions, and everyone turns scarlet. The old days are over. Women live in a world where they can achieve a status not according to their sex, rather by their achievements. Mentioning pudenda should not be the source of social awkwardness. If it takes a screaming vagina to break free of that mould, then so be it.
Unfortunately, there were the usual grumblers. The people who have not found joy in sexual expression since rubbing against the bedpost as a teenager. They were screaming to anyone who would listen about how crude it is. They were asking, “what must her parents think? They must feel so ashamed.” They said that the artist must be a lesbian to have such intimate knowledge of the vagina (sometimes forgetting that they own one themselves). Some even went as far as to say that it’s pornographic! (Wow! These people need an education. Clearly they have never been on the internet). I am so glad I’m not one of those people. Life must be so terribly boring for them.
So yes! Ladies! Don’t be afraid! The word vagina is not a swear word. Do you get embarrassed when I say “armpit”? Or “bellybutton”? Exactly! Its a part of your body. While still inside your mommy’s tummy, the chromosomes decided you would have a vajayjay instead of a dong. The vagina is after all where life in this world begins. That’s it! Common decency rules that you can’t go out in public showing off your bits, (although camel-toes seem to be a rule unto their own) but its not something that needs to be whispered. Enjoy the liberation that women before you fought for. I mentioned that when entering the Yoni, you had to remove your shoes. This is not about anything other than paying respect. Like in many cultures in the world, a sacred place is venerated by being barefoot. The literal birthplace of humanity is shown the due respect it deserves in this exhibition. The prudes need to get over themselves.