A Facebook friend recently posted a painting of a vagina by John Currin. Currin’s work is after Courbet’s famous, and infamous Origin of the World. The post corresponded with my reading of Asti Hustvedt’s Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth Century Paris. The book had me thinking about the way women are measured in society; most often, those doing the measuring have power. More often than not, those being measured have little power. The women portrayed in Hustvedt’s compelling, and sensitively written monograph were victimized when children. They later became puppets for doctors. The women’s minds were hypnotized, their bodies divided into zones, marked, written upon, and photographed for posterity. Their induced fitful states were displayed for doctors and curious onlookers.
When I first saw Courbet’s painting, I was glad to see an image of honest liberation. In contrast, Currin’s adaptation seems vacuous. However, each image is, once again, a man taking the measure of a woman. Mine is different. Here, the beginning of the world is a messy, violent, and painful birth: no idealism; no smooth surfaces. Other artists’ depictions of vaginas may be seen here.