The Vagina Museum is a recently opened, unassuming space in Camden, north London, that punches way above its weight when it comes to delivering an important, overdue education to its audiences. It is the brainchild of Florence Schechter (@floschechter), who decided the world was due its first ever museum dedicated to that ‘mystical’ and understudied piece of female anatomy, the vagina.
Much Twitter interest preceded the opening of this masterful gallery, and, on its first weekend, it welcomed so many visitors that it had to put out a statement on Twitter, advising those keen to visit on how best to avoid the queue. Like many, I was aghast (but not too surprised) to learn that this Museum was the world’s first of its kind, and I was keen to see it for myself, so I arranged a mid-week visit to avoid the queues – a problem I was smugly pleased to learn had arisen: justification for the space and a middle-finger-up to all those who had argued it didn’t exist because nobody wanted it to!
So, just over a week after I had observed the aftermath of its grand opening via Twitter, I found myself strolling through Camden on a crisp, blue-skied, chilly winter’s afternoon, winding my way through the small alleyways that constitute the market. Turning right past the Moomin shop (a staple of all good markets), I caught sight of the smartly designed wooden sign hanging from a brick wall and dived straight towards it through the throng of people clasping steaming cups of hot drinks in woollen-mittened hands.
The space itself is small, owing to the expense required to hire a space in north London, but it is made full use of to feel open and spacious. On the left-hand side is the shop, selling all sorts of vagina-themed stationery, merchandise and artwork, and on the right-hand side is the current exhibition. The Vagina Museum aims to install two exhibitions each year, and the current one is ‘Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them’, an exhibition dedicated to busting all those myths about vaginas that we’ve all come to know and hate – ‘Wash it out with Coca Cola as a free method of contraception’, ‘If you use a tampon, you’re no longer a virgin’ – the list goes on…
Unlike most museum spaces, this one has a large board near the entrance explaining why the space is needed. Despite vaginas being a body part possessed by just under half of the world’s population, there is a huge taboo and stigma attached to them in cultures right across the globe. The Vagina Museum argues that this prevents proper research and education, and that this has real consequences for many women daily. 26.7% of 25-29 year-old women in Britain are too embarrassed to attend cervical screening appointments (Jo’s Trust, 2017), and more than 200 girls below the age of 18 had labiaplasty (plastic surgery to alter the appearance of parts of the vagina) on the NHS between 2015 and 2016, with more than 150 of these girls being under 16 (BBC, 2017).
The Muff Busters exhibition itself does a great job of working through 11 misguided myths, each more shocking than the last, and convincingly debunking them one-by-one. The boards are engaging, with great illustrations and diagrams and a colour scheme that’s bright but easy-on-the-eye. There’s also a free worksheet for you to complete as you work your way round, on which you need to label all the anatomical parts which, together, make up the vagina. This is a great way to encourage you to read all the information and engage with your own learning as you make your way round the space. Plus, if you hand in your completed worksheet to the reception desk and get it all correct, you get a fun ‘100%’ stamp and a ‘Vagina Museum’ sticker! (They know how to appeal to those of us who love learning, which, I would guess, represents a large portion of readers of this blog…)
Another feature of the Vagina Museum that makes it memorable and unique is its support of female artists. In the shop, they have a display on which they feature a different female artist each month – a great way to support women brave enough to take on such an uncertain and tricky profession! In their first month, they displayed the work of Charlotte Willcox (@phocbs), and many of her delightful prints were for sale in the shop. The Muff Busters exhibition itself was also illustrated by Charlotte, and several clever sculptures were provided by Sam Dawood. The most eye-catching of these is over in the far corner of the space, a couple of giant mooncups and a giant tampon complete with glittery blood.
The Vagina Museum has recently announced its next exhibition: 'Periods - A Brief History'. This will follow the current Muff Busters exhibition and will be open from the 4th April to the 25th October 2020. Its aim is to explore stories and facts from throughout history which highlight how our understanding of menstruation has changed and how this has impacted the lives of people with periods all over the globe.
The Vagina Museum is free to visit and is volunteer-run, with regular tours of the exhibition.
If you’d like to read the information and illustrations displayed in the Muff Busters exhibition, you can access a PDF here (although this isn’t a substitute for paying them an in-person visit if you’re able to do so!): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pmPMJ727dSh5_A03dpAl5Ir8pIeQrr74/view
Vagina Museum Twitter handle: @vagina_museum
Vagina Museum website: https://www.vaginamuseum.co.uk
Charlotte Willcox’s Instagram: @charlotte.illustrates
Charlotte Willcox’s website: https://www.charlotteillustrates.com
Sam Dawood's Instagram: @sam.daw.ood
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Kate is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, where she researches green space in UK primary schools and how this affects children's engagement with nature. She enjoys learning and spaces where this happens!