Gem of an exhibition

15 October 2013 - 02:58 By Andrea Nagel
KA-POW: 'Vajazzle Series South Africa' is Frances Goodman's exhibition exploring the objectification of women,.
KA-POW: 'Vajazzle Series South Africa' is Frances Goodman's exhibition exploring the objectification of women,.
Image: FRANCES GOODMAN

Frances Goodman's exhibition Vajazzle Series South Africa opened last week at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. She spent hours attaching crystals to women's vaginas and then photographing the results.

Three people give their opinion of the work:

Tracy Loder, Lesbian Activist, Editor of the website Mambagirl, Participant

The exhibition is an empowering representation of women. The body positions are brave, have integrity and are emotionally strong. Poses like these tell you a lot about the women who have chosen to be part of the show.

The photograph of me projects an empowered woman, physically and emotionally. That's my truth and what I want to put out there.

My reason for participating in the project was to take a part of my body that is often objectified, judged and violated and turn it into a symbol of liberation.

South Africa is a country where sexual violence is part of our lives, something that has affected our communities deeply.

I am a lesbian. While I live in a country where my rights are constitutionally protected, not all lesbians here feel that protection. My lesbian sisters in townships are targeted because they are lesbians. They are brutally attacked and "correctively raped"- a term that describes when women are raped to "cure" them of their lesbianism.

Participating in the exhibition is part of my stand to expose corrective rape as an attempt to take something that can never be owned. Just because this part of the body can be violated doesn't mean it should be defeminised.

When Goodman asked if I'd like to be part of this, I didn't hesitate.

I wanted to do Vajazzle because it was important for me to show other lesbians, and women in general, the beauty of their femininity.

My body is not all of who I am - I am so much more than my vagina. The image of me that Goodman used in the exhibition is powerful, unyielding, strong - I couldn't have asked for a better representation of who I am.

Seeing myself exposed on a wall with other women made me feel I am part of the greater struggle of how women choose to project themselves.

Vajazzling isn't for everyone, but we can all be activists against violence in our everyday lives by just being visible.

It was interesting to witness the reactions to the images.

Most men didn't want to look at the pictures. Some asked their female partners for permission to look. I never felt the picture objectified me. In fact, one looks at "vajazzled" designs rather than the naked vaginas.

The exhibition helped me feel more liberated than I thought I could. I hope it will help other women feel the same.

Sylvia Mckeown, Writer

Long gone are the days when works had to be appealing to look at to be considered art.

Art should make you feel something - and you can't look at the Vajazzling series without feeling something.

There the women stand naked, hands on hips, crystals glistening between spread legs - daring you to look at them. It's enough to make anyone feel awkward. Add to that the high level of execution and intent behind the work and not only is it art, but very good art.

It's the combination and tension between the artist's and the models' intentions that affects me. Goodman admitted that the project became interesting when the women told her the different reasons why they wanted to participate.

As I stared at the different shapes and sizes of the women who adorned the walls, I tried to put myself in their positions. I wondered if I would have done it and the possible reasons why: maybe to lay claim to my body, or to take a stand for women who are ashamed of how they look, or perhaps just for the thrill of doing something daring on a Sunday afternoon.

These women did it for themselves - not for their lovers nor for the viewer - so I don't see it as objectification. They knew what they signed up for and are proudly inviting us to behold their most intimate of areas, bedazzled with flowers and lightning bolts.

This is a body of work that started out questioning the way we look at our bodies and the impact the media has on our view of beauty. It has become a beautiful, empowering representation of reclaimed femininity. And that, itself, is art worth celebrating.

Gavin Furlonger, Photographer

I find the Vajazzle Series sadly lacking in emotion, as photography or art.

Considering the sensitivity of the subject matter and the considered intention of the works, they are pedestrian in approach.

Neither the artwork adorning each subject nor the photography exude any kind of genuine creativity. The other big question is whether all this adornment doesn't create a deeply sexist attitude that objectifies women.

It makes me wonder why a woman would need to take such drastic measures to turn on her partner. I'm lost as to what anyone would find appealing about being presented with such a sight, regardless of sexual preference.

I'm even more curious as to what approach works best so as not to disarrange the display or, even worse, to get "snagged" between the superglue and fake jewels.

In fact, it's the old story of trying to create something sensational out of nothing because of the subject matter. The word "exploitative" comes to mind.

The sitters are random rather than hand-picked and the "installations" are amateurish, to say the least.

I can see that it's an idea that could have great potential in the right hands.

These were my thoughts before I read about the artist. Goodman is an emerging "star" artist with interesting ideas.

I can only imagine her intentions were supposed to be constructive. Unfortunately, I believe they have fallen short of expectations.

In my opinion, this is not photography. I would liken the pictures to the "cheap thrill" achieved from the prints of a photocopying machine.

Yet, this is "art" because it probably carries a high price tag. - compiled by

  • Exhibition ends November 9
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