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Interview: Florence Schechter, founder of The Vagina Museum

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Following our recent discovery of the news about a Vagina Museum coming to London, we just couldn't sit back and ignore this without learning more. 

We had a chat with founder Florence Schechter about what encouraged this project, who they're working with, and when it will be open to the public.

[art by Bee Hughes]

Science communicator and owner of science film company CollabLab, Florence Schechter has a deep interest in female anatomy, putting a comedic twist on science as a whole and filming videos for her YouTube channel. This is where the desire to start up a Vagina Museum came from. 

Florence made a video for her channel, 'Top 10 Animal Penises', which was well received and incredibly fun to do, which led to the idea of creating another video of the same sort - except for vaginas. "I went online to research and I could hardly find any research on vaginas. I could see other people had looked at animal genitalia studies in scientific literature and there was a clear bias towards penises and away from female genitalia". 

As there is a Penis Museum in Iceland, it would make sense that surely somewhere in our world there would be a vagina equivalent. Florence found an online vagina museum but it wasn't quite enough for the video. "It was all information and lots of art, but the information had no accompanying images" explains Florence. "I was pretty upset by this, you know, it was a really clear hammer on the head case of inequality, so the only way to address this was to make my own."

The three main aims of the museum are to educate, empower, and entertain. In a survey done by Eve Appeal, they found that half of British women aged 26-35 can't locate the vagina on a diagram of the internal anatomy. This is in addition to a third of 18-25-year-olds  who admitted to not going to the doctors because they were too embarrassed when they showed symptoms of gynaecological issues. 

"Something like 60% of young British women aren't comfortable to say vagina or vulva. They'll refer to it as 'lady garden', 'downstairs' or 'fufu', just why? why? It's part of the body that does amazing things, it gives you pleasure, it makes babies, we should be proud of it and people aren't," explains Florence before simply stating the fact that museums need to be fun, they need to be exciting and active for engagement.

The project is more than just showcasing vagina related art and facts; they will be distributing menstrual products to the homeless and working with Eve Appeal, a gynaecological cancer charity to bring more awareness. "We're planning our first pop up science exhibition all about anatomy and health and they're helping out with the sort of science side of that."

The Vagina Museum will be heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, with an exhibition named Exhibitionist, that will be available from 5th - 27th August at Woodland Creatures. 

Despite the fact Florence, with a helping hand from volunteers, is being proactive and getting out there with the project, it's "humongously variable" as to when the Museum will be physically up and running. "Best case scenario, minimum 5 years, worst case scenario, 25 years, it's going to cost a lot and takes a long time to build a museum from scratch, I've done research and the best way to be successful and not fall on my face is to start small and keep doing these little projects and talks and build it up."

Florence describes the process as a form of market research, taking the project nationally, meeting with people to find out what they want and need because without that, "how can I educate and empower if I don't know what they need?", says Florence.

Vagina Museum is already gathering collaborators and artists to be a part of the final product and pop-ups along the way. They're already in talks with Jamie McCartney, who created The Great Wall of Vagina, "misnamed, it should be 'Vulva'. His piece is in storage in Brighton waiting to be displayed, I'd really like that as a permanent thing and to put in the text 'by the way, this is misnamed, it should be Vulva'."

[Jamie McCartney - Great Wall of Vagina]

Aswell as Jamie, Florence would also like to exhibit a piece from Japanese artist who sculpted a canoe designed from her own vulva, "it's a cool idea, she sits in the vagina hole in the canoe, that's the idea of it". What makes this piece even more vital is the repression the artist is getting from the Japanese goverment; she has been accussed of being guilty of obscenity for her art. "I just want to get her to Britain and be like, 'put your vulva everywhere, we're cool with it!"

[Megumi Igarashi and her Vulva Canoe]

And, naturally, Georgia O'Keeffe, an artist known for her vagina-like flowers, is set to feature. What interests Florence so much about this is the denial O'Keeffe had in the past. "Come on Georgia, look at them, just look at them, they're vulvas!", she exclaims. 

The topic of people being prudish and embarrassed to discuss the female genitalia is a worldly thing that needs stomping out. Florence tells us about a Indian/Muslim artist friend who, when asked to produce a piece of art for the museum, said they couldn't. In the end, Florence received an email, "she sent me a beautiful Indian mandala design with a vulva in the centre and she said in the email, 'I want to thank you, this made me get over my prudishness' so that was an amazing feeling, it'll be at the Fringe festival too."

[art by Hana Ayoob]

Check out their upcoming events at https://www.vaginamuseum.co.uk/events

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