Japanese cartoonist Rokudenashiko recently celebrated the release of her new book What is Obscenity? The Story of a Good For Nothing Artist and her Pussy by challenging claims by the Japanese government that her art, and subsequently her body, is obscene.
In a recent interview with The Globe and Mail, the artist, whose real name is Megumi Igarashi, describes how she discovered “vagina art” (known as “manko art” in Japanese) and how it has helped her gain a better perspective on gender inequality in Japan. “Starting manko art, I was married at the time and I did notice in the process of getting married and how that changed my relationship to the world as a wife versus as a woman,” recalls Igarashi. “It became obvious to me that there’s a huge gender discrimination going on.”
In response to that discrimination and with the support of her friends, the artist embarked on a full-blown project to use her vagina not only as the centerpiece of her art, but the centerpiece of a highly contentious (and what she would find out later, seemingly illegal) conversation about the treatment of women and their bodies in her home country. From 3D printed kayaks and dioramas to her figurines and comics starring her adorable manko-chan character, Rokudenashiko took the international community by storm, but also landed into hot water with the Japanese police.
Arrested for distributing “obscene” materials in 2014, Igarashi was later released but still fined 400,000 (about $3,667) for distributing 3D plans of her genitals as part of a Kickstarter campaign that raised money to build a kayak modeled on her vagina. “I think that the fact that all of this stems from the word ‘pussy’ is completely ridiculous and it makes me laugh every time,” the artist says regarding the negative attention her art has garnered from Japanese officials, adding:
And then I get mad but then I remember and I laugh all over again. It’s just so stupid. I mean, these are policemen and they’re losing their shit over manko. It’s like, are you serious? There are so many other problems going on and this is what you’re losing your head over?
Despite the backlash, Igarashi is determined to continue to produce her artwork and tell the story of how her vagina became an international scandal, and she has started necessary conversations about freedom of expression and what constitutes “obscenity” in a society that has a festival dedicated to the male phallus. “I feel like the international community takes my art seriously,” says the artist. “Whereas in Japan, it’s still considered gross or weird or funny at best. People don’t take it seriously, no matter how hard I try to explain what it is and my mission. They can’t get past, ‘This is gross.’… Manko is part of my body, and my body is not an obscenity.”
To read the full interview with The Globe and Mail, click here.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!