Sophia Kayafas visits Sophia Wallace, an artist whose “Cliteracy” project seeks to change the way we think about female pleasure. Wallace creates art that depicts the entire clitoris in order to understand this vital part of the female body
Wallace: There is no appropriate place to talk about this,
but then, when it is silent, when it is always inappropriate,
then, who is harmed by that?
So, when you actually break out of that, and say,
"Not only do I have a right not to be raped and beaten up,
but also, I want to enjoy my life.
I want to be treated well.
I want to be free to love who I love and how I love."
the fact that it is in the female body,
and it's about pure, endless pleasure,
that is the most "pssh" for so many people --
the fact that we have the ability
to have that much pleasure,
the fact that our entire existence
isn't just to reproduce, and take care of people,
but actually could be for our own enjoyment,
and doing whatever the fuck we want.
I mean, that shatters all ideas of who we're supposed to be,
and what's supposed to drive us.
Can I help you? Sure. Sure.
So, I guess if you want to just start unpacking
the ones on your side.
I mean, just, like, slowly take tape off,
and then, slowly, like, untape the --
You're gonna put this together?
We're gonna try. Oh, my God.
Hopefully, together, we can figure this out.
Two Sophias, so, when do we get to have that?
It's very delicate. It's like, both -- you know, it's glass.
It's, like, both so delicate and so strong.
[ Chuckles ] I love that. It's really special.
And I thought it was kind of perfect for my subject matter,
because, as much as I've been talking about this
for so many years,
people still don't say the words.
They still don't feel comfortable
talking about their body.
It's actually one of the...
It's one of the easiest rejections
that I get, with the work, is, like, people will say,
"Oh, it's super important, but I just hate that word.
I just can't say it."
What word is that? "Clitoris."
And then, I say, "Well, how do you feel about 'vulva'?"
"Oh, gross." "Oh, no. That's not good."
"Well, how do you feel about 'vagina'?"
"Oh, God. I just can't say it."
"Well, what about 'uterus'?"
And you're like, "Okay, well, it's not the words."
You know? It's some deep, embedded shame.
Maybe we should actually go this way, 'cause --
do you mind if we just move the table?
What am I thinking? This is terrible.
Okay. Great. 'Cause we need more space.
How did you get into installation work?
I had a crisis with my medium.
So, I was trained in photography,
and once I started thinking about this project,
I was like, "Okay, photography is impossible."
First of all, I can't capture
what I'm trying to talk about in a photograph.
How do you show...
How do you show the unseen of the body
with something that's all about looking at it?
You have to start thinking in the abstract.
So, and that's why I started working with the text,
to get people to kind of go deeper into the subject,
and not objectify it.
It's a really beautiful sentence, actually.
It's very simple. Yeah.
Thank you. That's what I love about it,
because, you know, that's so meaningful
to hear someone say your name, say it out loud.
Alright. Are you ready to do this?
The moment of truth, here.
I'm kind of scared, but I also believe in us.
You want to pull the string on yours?
Let's do it.
It's so beautiful.
[ Chuckles ]
What happens, for you, when the light turns on?
[ Sighs ]
I don't know.
It's nice, 'cause it kind of takes me
out of analyzing it, into more experiencing it,
and just kind of feeling the energy of it,
and slowing down a little bit.
It's kind of a soft glow that affects everything around it.
It made the whole room a little warmer.
I like that.
The world is illiterate
when it comes to women's sexual anatomy.
"Clitoris," from the Greek "clitoris,"
means "little hill," or, like, a mountain.
This feels almost like a manifesto
in a lot of ways,
like, "This is who I am.
These things are real.
These are real things, and I'm gonna declare them."
Wallace: I call it the hundred natural laws,
because natural laws are inalienable.
Like, anyone that's alive has access to them.
They can't be taken away by a government, or by a religion.
So, I wanted to say, like, the clit has a right
to exist free of harm, known in its truth,
not excised like a cancer,
not pathologized, not criminalized.
Kayafas: I do have a couple of these really speak to me.
This one says, "Take your virginity."
Mm, yes. That's pretty powerful.
I think virginity is a myth, and a construct,
but if any virginity exists,
like, everyone should take their own.
No one can take mine.
I'm taking my own. Yeah.
You know what I mean? Like...[ Laughs ]
Who got it? I got it.
Each one of these has a lot to unpack...
Yes. ...for the reader.
What's the question that you often get?
A common question I get is, like,
"What was your inspiration?"
And it's like, my whole fucking life was my inspiration.
I mean, you know, the entire experience
of being born in a female body,
and being told from a young age, like,
that your body is, like, down there,
and your private parts, and don't talk about them.
Don't touch them. They don't belong to you.
They belong to your future husband
that you trade in exchange for a nice diamond.
This is like jewelry.
Yeah, the exact same form as the sculpture.
They look like little angels.
You know, the art world
is so inaccessible, and unaffordable,
and it's nice to have things that are, like, $15,
that people can afford, and participate.
So, when someone has this on...
[ Chuckles ] Yeah.
...I'm imagining that they feel kind of empowered, actually,
but also, there's still a mystery there.
You know? I'm sure someone that doesn't know you
or the work might say, "Well, what is that?"
And it's gonna start up a conversation
about what this person is wearing.
You could also not have to have a conversation,
if you don't want to.
It could be your private, personal thing.
I think it can be very loud,
and it can also be this small, powerful thing that,
you know, if you know, you know,
which I kind of like about it.
You just had a child, right?
A week before the COVID lockdown,
so, March 5th.
First of all, congratulations. Thank you.
Did your relationship to your own body change
when you were going through your pregnancy,
and has it changed the way you see this symbol now?
I was so dysmorphic in my body.
I went from feeling like myself,
and strong, and queer, and, like, legibly queer
to being this very stereotypical representation of the feminine,
and feeling so vulnerable.
And everything around in terms of, like, what pregnancy
and families are is so heteronormative.
There's so many things about it
that are just really dehumanizing.
And they don't have to be.
They just do not have to be.
But there's so much comfort with women suffering.
You know, and it is statistically true
that we're not believed when we talk about our pain.
That has a long history.
But I just think that there is
a certain valorization of suffering.
There is an idea that we ennoble ourselves through our pain.
Talk about pleasure is, again, so taboo.
Your wife, was she there with you
during parts of the...?
She was. She was.
She was also separated at parts.
She was also misgendered.
She was also not told, after my emergency C-section,
that, like, I was okay,
that I was alive, that I was fine.
And then, no one knowing who she is.
Security giving her a hard time.
Every part of the pregnancy was traumatic,
especially the birth.
you know, I think it's important to say,
like, you know, it's not great.
I mean, for some people, it is.
I've never been so terrified in my life,
and I've never felt so humiliated,
and vulnerable, and in danger.
I think it's really amazing that you have a son,
because I feel like...
whenever I think about the beauty,
the power of what feminism can do, and what it is,
it has to do with equality,
and it also has to do with
the way mothers raise their sons.
I mean, that's the moment
where we have the most power to explain to our children
how to see things,
and how to see women equally,
and to respect them.
[ Voice breaking ] So, I'm very happy for you.
Oh. Thank you.
I don't know that the universe is doing something,
but, like, almost every...
lesbian that I know that's having a kid,
we're all having sons.
But I think that, maybe, the universe is saying,
"You know what? We're giving them to you.
You're gonna do the best possible job
that can be done with these boys.
You will, like, raise up some good boys.
We need more good men in this world."
It's one thing to say, "This is happening,
and I'm upset,"
but then, to overcome it is another.
That's where a lot of the power in your work comes from,
at least for me,
is that I know it's not just an angry, bitter person.
It's someone that has fully...
worked through that with love.
It's uplifting, it's transformative,
to experience your work.
It's just a tragedy that the work
even needs to be made in the first place.
I know. I know.
But I'm so glad that it's it's here,
yeah, thank you for doing it.
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