Bucknell exhibit hosts conversations around the female body

LEWISBURG – Bucknell University’s Samek Art Gallery will introduce “a new way of talking about citizenship, sexuality, human rights and bodies” Wednesday with the opening of “The Cliteracy Project,” a mixed media exhibit created by conceptual artist Sophia Wallace.

The gallery will present an artist talk with Wallace at 6 p.m. Wednesday to kick off the showing.

The controversial exhibit is disarming in name alone, and this fits with its purpose to examine the sexualization of women’s bodies and, at the same time, the cultural ignorance about female anatomy, according to Sheila Lintott, Bucknell’s chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, which is partnering with the gallery to host the exhibit.

“Personally, I am a fan of socially conscious art that aims to expose its audience to new perspectives and even to provoke the audience. This show promises to accomplish just that,” Lintott said. “Furthermore, Wallace’s work is really funny and I believe that humor is an excellent pedagogical tool because it helps people let their guard down and hear a message that they might be resistant to in normal circumstances.”

The exhibit includes a display of “100 natural laws” created by Wallace; some examples include “The world is illiterate when it comes to women’s sexual anatomy” and “all bodies are entitled to the pleasure they are capable of.” Other “laws” question the phallic nature of art and architecture and the lack of similar display of affection for female genitalia.

Wallace attempts to rectify this imbalance with the “Clit Rodeo” aspect of the exhibit, which Lintott said may be included in Bucknell’s installation.

“During the ‘Clit Rodeo,’ audience members can participate by interacting with the giant, golden clitoris in a variety of ways from dancing or posing with it to riding it,” Lintott said.

While aspects of the exhibit may seem extreme, silly or embarrassing, Lintott said they serve a serious purpose: “The amount of ignorance and shame that surrounds human genitals and especially female sexual pleasure is appalling. I think Wallace is trying to right that wrong in a humorous and creative way.”

The exhibit fits perfectly with the goals of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies as well.

“We aim to help our students critically examine the role that gender and gendered norms play in society, today and throughout history and this show will start many conversations with our students,” Lintott said. “Moreover, Wallace’s broad study of sexuality, citizenship, and identity mirrors our own commitment to studying the way gender intersects with a variety of other social identities and sites of oppression.”

Indeed, Wallace doesn’t limit the focus of the exhibit to sexual ignorance but gives it a wide scope to explore the results of a culture that views female sexuality as inferior and, as she said in one interview, “a source of shame” – things like genital mutilation, “slut-shaming” (attempts to make women feel bad for their sexual behavior or perceived promiscuity) and the treatment of victims of sexual violence.

“There is a lot of fear of women’s bodies and women’s power,” Lintott said. “Think of how many battles you’ve seen depicted in art and then of how many realistic birth scenes. Now, I ask you, what’s more impressive and worthy of celebration and study: the power to take life or the power to make life? What’s more worthy of artistic representation?”

“The Cliteracy Project” will be exhibited Feb. 12 to March 16 at Samek Art Gallery, located in the Elaine Langone Center at Bucknell University, 701 Moore Ave.