Japanese artist put in jail for controversial 'selfie'

  • People
  • Friday, 18 Jul 2014

A Japanese artist who made headlines for making a 3D-printed kayak modelled on her vagina is arrested for sending her funders a '3D selfie' of her privates.

Speaking from jail, Megumi Igarashi, 42, is outraged by her arrest and vows a court fight against the obscenity charges brought against her, adding that her fight will be a challenge to a culture of “discrimination” against discussion of the vagina in Japanese society.

Igarashi, who works under the alias Rokudenashiko, which means “good-for-nothing girl” in Japanese, built a yellow kayak with a top shaped like her vagina after raising about US$10,000 (RM31,763) through crowdfunding. As a way of saying thanks to a number of donors, Igarashi sent them 3D printer data of her scanned vagina — the digital basis for her kayak project.

Because of the 3D printer data — one can argue that it's a '3D selfie' of her privates, but that's up to the courts now — that she sent out, Igarashi was arrested and charged with the crime of distributing indecent material. Now she faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to US$25,000.

Igarashi said about 10 police officers arrived at her house on June 12. Initially, she thought they were only interested in confiscating her vagina-inspired artwork, that she has previously explained is a pop-art exploration of the manko — vulgar Japanese slang for vagina.

Sink or swim: Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi paddling in her infamous 'vagina boat', a kayak with a 3D-printed top that's modelled on her private parts. - Reuters

“I couldn’t stop myself from laughing a little as I explained to the grim-looking officers, ‘This is the Lady Gaga manko figure’,” Igarashi said, while seated from across a plastic security divide in a central Tokyo jail. “I did not expect to get arrested at all. Even as they were confiscating my works, I thought to myself, ‘This will be a good story’. Then they handcuffed and arrested me. Now, I just feel outraged.”

More than 17,000 people have signed an online petition for Igarashi’s immediate release on Change.org, an online platform for grassroots petitions associated with liberal causes.

Igarashi wore black trousers and a sweatshirt provided by police. She said she was allowed to shower twice a week and was eating toast, jam and juice because she did not have money to pay for extra dishes like curry. She can be detained until the end of July before charges are filed.

Artistic freedom

Igarashi has touched off a debate on both women’s rights and the freedom of artistic expression, said Kazuyuki Minami, her lead defense lawyer. The legal definition of what counts as obscenity is vague in Japan, and the key point of debate will be deciding whether the vagina itself can be considered obscene, said Minami. “It will be a difficult battle,” Minami said.

Although Japan has an extensive pornography industry, it remains regulated by a section of the criminal code that dates back to 1907. Video pornography in Japan has often used digital mosaics to obscure genitalia in sex scenes as a way to avoid obscenity charges. A 1951 Supreme Court case broadly defined obscenity as something that stimulates desire and violates an ordinary person’s sense of sexual shame and morality.

Private goes public: Megumi Igarashi (left) working on her vagina-inspired sculptures and the cover of her manga book of essays.

Igarashi’s arrest comes at a time when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed to increase the participation of women in the work force and executive positions to bolster the economy.

Igarashi says she began making artwork to address what she saw as a double standard applied to both female and male genitalia in Japan. The vagina “has been such a taboo in Japanese society”, she wrote on her website. “It’s been overly hidden although it’s just a part of a woman’s body.”

During a jail visit by friends, Igarashi asked for a copy of a manga comic book of essays she wrote on how she became a “decorative vagina” artist to give to her cellmate. She said she was already planning to write about her experience behind bars. - Reuters

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