by Anna Lekas Miller
We have mapped DNA and we can go to Mars, yet most people still can’t find the clitoris.
Did you know that the female spotted hyena has the largest clitoris among mammals, extending as much as seven inches outside of her body?
The very word clitoris comes from the Greek word, kleitoris, meaning “little hill.” In reality, this is a gross misunderstanding as the clitoris that can be seen is merely a tip of the iceberg to a much larger organ that is on average 9 to 12 centimeters long and 6 centimeters wide. It has 8,000 nerves concentrated at the tip and its sole biological purpose is sexual pleasure. Still, despite this seeming power it remains largely unutilized. Most mainstream pornography ignores it and 70 percent of the positions on display in the Kama Sutra would, anatomically speaking, leave most women without an orgasm.
Brooklyn-based artist Sophia Wallace, intrigued by the clitoris’ absence in a culture seemingly obsessed with sex and female nudity, set about to debunk the myths and unearth the mystery in her most recent project, ” Cliteracy,” a gigantic art installation, street art project, and viral Tumblr campaign that showcases 100 “natural laws” of the clitoris, or cliteracy. On Monday, I had the chance to sit down with her and discuss art, sex, politics and the clitoris.
Anna Lekas Miller: Despite your training as a visual artist, you made a very distinct choice to represent “Cliteracy” through words, rather than images. Why?
Sophia Wallace: With “Cliteracy” I knew that I couldn’t work in images. There are many reasons for why that is, but so often I think that the images of women are actually used against us. They are used to disempower us, they are used to dehumanize us and reduce us. I knew that that would obscure the subject matter.
Further, I knew that this would express that everything that could be known about the clitoris could be known by being seen, and that is not actually true. The clit as an organ is mostly internal, so what we can see on the outside of the body is a mere tip of the iceberg. Moreover, the subject is about embodiment and being whole within oneself, and that is not something that can be shown visually.
For me it was most important that I worked on a scale that was monumental. That suggested something that stays over time, that can’t be taken in in a glance. Any viewer’s body is going to be dwarfed by it. Even a football player will feel small next to it. We are not used to thinking about female genitals in a way that they are larger and imposing and more complex than you can ever understand.
ALM: What was the moment that you decided that you had to do “Cliteracy”?
SW: I’m not sure. There was no one moment. There were a lot of things that happened in a period of time. I don’t know why I got particularly fed up at this moment in time, but I did. Like I said, my work deals with power and how power normalizes itself through this tableau of visual images. I was thinking about sex and representations of sex and how is it possible that in this day in age the clit is never anywhere. All of the depictions of sex in Hollywood cinema, in visual art, even in pornography revolve around the penis. If the clit is ever included which is rare, it is treated as foreplay, an afterthought, or “wow, what a lucky woman” and kind of dirty and gross. It is never treated on equal par with the penis. Why is that?