Megumi Igarashi, the Japanese artist who goes by the name Rokudenashiko (“good-for-nothing girl” or “n’er-do-well kid”) was arrested this week by Tokyo police for allegedly violating Japanese obscenity laws. Her crime? Distributing imaging data of her own vagina—data which could potentially be used by a 3D printer to reproduce a model of her genitals. A Japanese Change.org petition demanding the immediate dismissal of the charges is steadily gaining signatures.
Rokudenashiko is no stranger to the controversy that comes when body and art collide. Her most famous work is a series of what she calls “deco-man,” a combination of the words “decoration” and “manko,” a Japanese slang term for vagina akin to “pussy.” These deco-man are miniature dioramas built on molds of her own vagina (see below).
In a video she created for the Japanese crowdfunding website Campfire, Rokudenashiko explained her rationale for creating these vagina-ramas:
Why did I start making this kind of art pieces? That was because I had not seen the pussy of others and worried too much about mine. I did not know what a pussy should look like at the same time I though [sic] mine is just abnormal. Manko, pussy, has been such a taboo in the Japanese society. Pussy has been thought to be obscene, because it’been [sic] overly hidden although it is just a part of women’s body. I wanted to make pussy more casual and pop.
From these simple vaginal molds emerge fantastical new worlds, at once offering cultural criticism while reflecting broadly on the place of women’s bodies in art. A vagina dolloped with whip cream, traced by sprinkles and topped with cookies conflates the erotic and the confectionary, as if to challenge the audience to consider the overlapping dimensions of desire in Japanese street fashion sub-cultures where cute femininity is so often married to constant consumption.
A different diorama, this time of uniformed school girls frolicking on a vagina slope, points to the alternatively exciting and confusing backdrop of physical maturation that so often informs one’s teenage years. Elsewhere, tiny figures dance together at a Japanese Obon Festival, honoring the spirits of the dead as they transform Rokudenashiko’s vagina into a spiritual site.
Perhaps most saliently, an image of toy soldiers dashing across her labia reminds us that women’s bodies remain a war zone, a place where autonomy is under constant threat from outside political forces and where male politicians will do whatever it takes to assert legal control. In other words, it’s not surprising that Rokudenashiko continues to face criticism for her art.
She bemoans the continued pushback:
… I was very surprised to see how people get upset to see my works or even to hear me say manko. If I say manko, it will offend the elderly. Even when a TV station asked me to be on their show, they wouldn’t dare let me say deco-man.
Despite these stories of criticism, Rokudenashiko’s Campfire crowdfunding to purchase a 3D scanner has already doubled it’s original target of ¥500,000 (about $5,000). She has no plans to stop what she’s doing, and if her list of projects is any indication, Japan can expect a lot more vagina art—bedding, doors, mascot figures, iPhone covers, boats and even cars—in the near future.
Images of Rokunashiko’s work via ろくでなし子.
James Hildebrand is a senior at Amherst College and editor-in-chief of the independent student blog AC Voice. He is interning this summer at Ms. magazine.