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A painted clay vulva sculpture by Athens-based artist Effie Emmanouilidi

Q&A | I AM A VULVA by Effie Emmanouilidi Redefines Strength

Effie uses red in her sculptures and photographs to accentuate empowerment and bodily autonomy

After finding Effie Emmanouilidi on instagram, we were excited to meet the artist behind I AM A VULVA, a gorgeous collection of colorful clay vulvas that are delicate and playful but also radiate power from their blood-red, shadowy backgrounds. The contrast evokes a Grimm's Fairy Tale where innocence is interacting with something deeper and darker.

Based in Athens, Effie — who is also an award-winning Art Director — talked with us about her mixed-media project, which includes sculpture, video, analog photography, and text, as well as the "Vulva Manifesto" at the heart of it.

Can you tell us about your Vulva Manifesto? What is it and what inspired you to write it?

The Vulva Manifesto serves as the foundation of I AM A VULVA project, providing a platform to amplify the voice of the most intimate aspect of our bodies. It underscores the significance of recognizing the power inherent in our most vulnerable parts, highlighting that strength can manifest in various forms, such as sensitivity, empathy, care, or courage. It challenges conventional notions of strength typically associated with physicality and masculinity, prompting reflection on societal constructs and biases.

Can you describe the process by which you sculpt and paint your clay vulvas? What goes through your mind as you set out to make a new one?

The process of sculpting and painting my clay vulvas is deeply influenced by a diverse range of art forms, extending beyond visual arts alone. As an ecofeminist, I draw inspiration from symbols found in folk art, particularly those representing natural elements. When creating each vulva, I aim to infuse it with these symbolic representations, evoking imagery reminiscent of flowers, shells, or waves. This intentional departure from realism allows for the projection of various ideas and cultural elements onto the sculptures. As I embark on crafting a new vulva, my mind navigates through these rich symbolisms, weaving together themes of nature, femininity, and cultural diversity.

What do you hope that people — especially people with vulvas — will think/feel when they see your vulvas all together?

One of the most cherished moments I have experienced with I AM A VULVA project occurred during the exhibition, when a 60-year-old woman approached me. She conveyed how profoundly moved she was by the project, expressing that despite attending numerous exhibitions over the years, none had resonated with her quite like mine. She described it as genuine art and genuine feminism, a sentiment that filled me with immense pride. This encounter reinforced the significance of the project's impact, affirming its ability to evoke meaningful emotions and provoke thought-provoking reflections on femininity and power.

Moving forward, my hope for the I AM A VULVA project is that each person who engages with it, especially individuals with vulvas, will experience a profound sense of empowerment and undergo a transformative shift in their understanding of power. By presenting vulvas in an artistic context that celebrates their beauty and strength, I aspire to foster a sense of pride and empowerment among viewers, encouraging them to embrace their own unique identities and challenge societal stereotypes.

How does displaying your vulvas on a blood-red background or your body, wearing a red bodysuit, add another layer to the story you’re telling?

Displaying my vulvas against a blood-red background or incorporating red into my body through a bodysuit adds another layer of depth to the story I'm conveying. Red is a color-rich in symbolism—it signifies passion, rebellion, and love in popular interpretation, while also being associated with blood and menstruation. Given that many of my vulvas feature red hues, this choice of color further accentuates the themes of empowerment and bodily autonomy that are central to the project.

Moreover, by envisioning the I AM A VULVA film set in a monochromatic red studio, I aim to create an immersive experience that simulates the sensation of being inside a person's body. This deliberate choice of color enhances the visceral nature of the project, inviting viewers to engage with it on a more intimate level and prompting deeper reflection on the complexities of femininity and self-expression.

As a viewer, I have to say that there’s something so cathartic about I AM VULVA. I feel like I’m seeing my own love and appreciation for my body and femininity while also having my anger and frustration about the patriarchy validated. So thank you for that!

This feels so good to hear, thank you so much! To be honest, this project was born out of exactly these sentiments you just described.

What kind of feedback have you received about your art, especially from women and people in the LBGTQ+ community?

I've received overwhelmingly positive feedback about I AM A VULVA, particularly from young women and individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. Many have approached me to express how deeply relevant the project is to their own experiences. Hearing their stories reaffirms my belief that the project serves its intended purpose of giving a voice to women and femininities. It's incredibly rewarding to know that the project resonates with those it was created for, and it motivates me to continue amplifying their voices through my work.

Can you tell me about Planet Sisterhood?

Planet Sisterhood is an art collective I co-founded with Ismini Inglesi, Mariza Kapsabeli, Christina Dimitra in 2022. It welcomes all femininities involved in the arts, with a focus on supporting freedom of expression through creativity. When I was planning the I AM A VULVA project, I realized I needed a team to bring it to life. There were numerous tasks involved, such as organizing an exhibition and creating a movie. I believed that having a diverse team with different perspectives would enrich the project. Additionally, since the project celebrates the power of women coming together, it made sense to involve a larger team. I'm incredibly grateful for the individuals who joined me on this journey; their contributions were essential to making the project a reality.

Now that you’re in your 30s, how has your relationship to your own body and femininity changed since you were in your late teens or early 20s?

Since my late teens, my journey of self-discovery has been profound. Growing up in a religious environment instilled in me an association of sexuality with feelings of guilt and shame from an early age. Living in Greece, a patriarchal society, only reinforced these perceptions. In my early 20s, I found myself hesitant to explore my own sexuality and pleasure, often prioritizing my partner's needs over my own. Looking back, I realize the impact of lacking proper sex education, which could have eased my relationship with my body and sexuality.

Now, in my 30s, I've come to feel more connected to my body and confident in expressing my desires. It's been a journey of learning to prioritize my own satisfaction and advocating for what I want, leading to a deeper sense of fulfillment overall.

Is there anything else you want people to know about you or your work?

To all young women and feminists out there, I want to emphasize that our voices and the needs of our bodies often go unheard in this world. However, it's crucial that we take matters into our own hands and lead by example. No one will hand us the space we deserve—we must carve it out for ourselves. Remember, we are enough and our needs are never too much.

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Nicole Zeman
Nicole Zeman

Nikki Zeman is the Head of Content & Community at Origin — a dream job that allows her to create eye-opening content about pelvic and sexual health. Before Origin, Nikki worked at Cosmpolitan, Women's Health, and Parents Magazine as an editor, health journalist, and advice columnist.

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