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'CLITERACY' The Power of Female Sexual Pleasure

Artist Sophia Wallace says that women can't fight for freedom from violence or reproductive justice without exposing taboos.
 
 
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Sophia Wallace is writing new laws.
Photo Credit: All photographs courtesy of Sophia Wallace

 
 
 
 

Sophia Wallace is a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist and photographer. Through mixed media, images and video, her work looks at constructions of gender, race and sex. Her most recent work, CLITERACY, was a multimedia project that included street art, wearable art, sculpture, a "Clit Rodeo" and more. Her work has been featured in exhibitions at Kunsthalle Wien Museum, Art Basel Miami, Scope NY, Taschen Gallery and Aperture Gallery, among others.

On Friday, she'll be one of more than 25 artists "crashing" the Whitney Biennial in New York, in what they're calling a rogue feminist public intervention in protest of the museum's "tokenistic approach to diversity".

I got a chance to see Wallace's studio, to view CLITERACY and to talk with Wallace for my regular interview feature here about the change that has to happen in the mainstream art world.

JESSICA VALENTI: Tell me about CLITERACY.

SOPHIA WALLACE: CLITERACY is a mixed media series that explores a paradox – the global obsession with sexualizing female bodies in a world that is illiterate when it comes to female sexuality. The complete anatomy of the clitoris was only discovered 1998 and is almost universally unknown to this day. Female genitals are still considered taboo.

In everyday parlance, to speak of female genitals is impolite, if not shameful. CLITERACY covers a vast territory of information – including, but not limited to, scientific breakthroughs, psychoanalysis, female genital mutilation, architecture, religion, the myth of virginity, porn culture and semiotics.  CLITERACY also utilizes humor –  the Clit Rodeo performance being one example.

Can you show me one of your pieces?

When people think of female genitals, they think of small, they think of flowers. They don't think of it as a subject that is monumental. This piece is overwhelming and takes you inside yourself. There's an unspoken rule that if you talk about female subjectivity, you always see a body – so there's still objectification. We don't know how to think about female subjectivity without a body.

I want to connect these ideas of female bodies and genitals as sites of shame and violence and connect that with citizenship, and having pleasure. This idea – that we can fight for freedom from violence and reproductive justice without fighting for pleasure – is a fallacy.

I also like to re-appropriate language that's used by the Tea Party and the Minute Men, and use that language to talk about the clit - "don't tread on my clit".

Have you received any backlash?

The more direct backlash has been in the form of attacks in the comment sections of places my work is featured. I have received death threats as well. What has been more alarming for me is learning from multiple people that they can't open my emails or see my website because it flagged as pornographic.

What's the positive reaction to CLITERACY been like?

It has expanded in ways I never imagined, including people offering to translate CLITERACY, to install street art for me in Cairo, London and Melbourne. CLITERACY is appearing all over in the spaces women find that cannot be institutionally censored.

The latest is that, on a campus in Barcelona, people are writing the laws of CLITERACY on walls.

I want people to buy my art, obviously, but I want people to be able to use the art in the world to defend their bodies and their right to exist – to not just be a receptacle of shame and taboo.

It can't just be stuck in the white walls of the gallery, I want it to be part of the lexicon.

 
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