The artist known as Vulva Love Lovely, goes by the slogan, "Love your vagina, love the vaginas you meet", and makes and sells vagina inspired pieces of jewelry. Potential customers have to describe their vulva in detail or send in photos. She also makes all kinds of other lovely products such as vagina pillows, uterus plushies and cell phone charms.
Vice: Tell us all about yourself, about all the things that made you turn into the kind of artist that you are.
Vulva Love Lonely: I went to high school at a very expensive private school and most of the other students there had the luxury of Smashbox cosmetics and Louis Vuitton luggage. To them I was a complete waste of time. They bragged endlessly, and from what I could gather older boyfriends and sex were instant ins. So I started dating older boys, too old for high school and old enough to know they could abuse the fact that I had negative self-esteem. I got pregnant and I was only 14. Being 14 I thought the best way to deal with this problem would be to ignore it.
Yes, except that didn’t exactly work out. So six months later I had to have a late-term abortion. That meant having to take a series of pills that would stop my baby’s heart and induce labor. They broke my water and after several hours in labor I had to give birth to a dead baby in a clinic bathroom. I was only 14. It was the most horrific, frightening experience of my life. For years afterwards I felt like a piece of trash and my vagina was a graveyard. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t even like touching it in the shower.
I read it wasn’t until you saw a performance of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues that you began to peel away the layers of self-denigration you had built up.
After years of living like that I saw The Vagina Monologues. I felt so angry. Angry isn’t even the right word, I was livid. After weeks of trying to figure out why it’d pissed me off so much I figured it out, I had nothing good to say about myself and certainly nothing good to say about my body. I needed to work that stuff out, I was sick of feeling that way. I’ve always used art to re-structure, to turn something ugly into something beautiful so I applied the same concept to myself.
Thus the vulva art?
Yep. A friend of mine suggested I try selling my things on the web. A few days after I listed my first item I got a thank you letter. They kept on rolling in, after that I felt almost obligated to keep listing, and it grew from there.
Who asks for their vulva to be turned into a necklace?
Anyone can have one, but the pendants were specifically for women who have undergone some sort of sexual trauma. In line with that, about 98% of the portrait pendants purchases are accompanied with a thank you e-mail describing a past trauma. I sell stand-alone sculptures as well as pendants. The majority of my pieces are purchased by women between the ages of 25 -40. They are feminists, rape victims, and women who have experienced all other manners of sexual trauma. That's my biggest customer base. Three pendants were even ordered by women who were forced to undergo genital mutilation.
How does the whole thing work?
After purchasing, you e-mail the photos of your vulva. Non photo-based pendants take about two weeks to create, photo-based pendants take about three to four weeks. Pendants cost between $40 and $70, depending upon the amount of detailing they need.
What kind of feedback you usually get?
Much to my surprise I mostly get positive feedback. I have one of those massive binders full of thank you letters, and I’ve not even been doing this for a year now. Even at shows I get primarily positive reactions. Though there is always one old man to stand about six feet away and glare at me.
I see some sort of a wet effect can be added to the piece. Am I right?
No, the pendants are made out of polymer clay with a resin backing and a satin, non-glossy top glaze.
Would you describe yourself as a feminist?
I would describe myself and my art as having strong feminist ideals, yes.
You say that no vulva has been badly treated during the making of the pendants!
One of the main benefits of these pieces is that they give women a point of reference. The vast majority think that their vulvas are the ugliest thing this world has ever seen. Our general reference is pornography, where the women are only chosen if their vulvas match one particular, ‘acceptable’ shape. Every single one of my pieces is based on a photo of an actual woman.
Why would a woman be unhappy with her vagina anyway?
Why wouldn’t she? None of our vaginas look like what is socially acceptable. Tampax commercials make periods look as bad as giving birth and completely disgusting. I’m not saying it’s not uncomfortable, but it’s definitely not as completely painful and inconveniencing as they want you to believe. Menstruation is a natural, harmless substance. You won’t melt if you get it on your hands, it won’t cause illness. They even have breath mints for your vagina.
Yes, because it’s supposed to smell like a peppermint patty. So, to sum up - vulvas are ugly, vaginas are gross, and menstrual blood is the plague - and the only way to make your ugly, gross vagina acceptable is to bleach it, dye it, glitter it up and pop a breath mint into it. We don’t need to surgically alter, dye, or perfume them. I do my best to show that there is no right shape, size or color. Vulvas are vulvas; they are supposed to look like vulvas.
CLARISSE MERIGEOT + PAULINE MAGNENAT