The human body begins at the origin.

This Body is Human · Este cuerpo es humano, written by Grassa Toro and translated by Claudio Cambon, begins like this:

“Penis, penis, penis, penis, penis, penis, penis and scrotum, testicles, prostate and seminal vesicles: the male genital organs.

Vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina, vagina and outer labia, inner labia, clitoris, vulvar vestibule, vulvar vestibule glands, hymen, mons pubis, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries: the female genital organs.

Feet are not called feet because we use them to dance, but genital organs are called that because they generate the raw material used to create new life. ”

Unlike most anatomical atlases I had come across growing up, this text celebrates the sexual organs, describing them without any trace of shame or modesty. Instead of being safely tucked away in the back of the book as an afterthought, or hidden within the many chapters describing various body parts, organs and systems; in this book, the sexual organs are showcased in the very first pages.
In order to illustrate them with the same sense of celebration, I felt the need to undo a lot of the cultural conditioning I had been fed through the years, and so I began to look at ancient atlases for some source of wisdom and orientation.

I was thrilled to find many sources of exquisite references depicting the sexual organs.
In ancient medical illustrations, such as the ones below (both undated and unsigned, probably dating form the 18th century in India), images of female sexual organs tend to reflect fertility and male sexual organs tend to reflect virility. Source: Islamic Medical Manuscripts

 

The image on the left shows a pregnant woman. Her abdomen and chest are opened to reveal the internal organs and foetus. Around her are two hearts, the lungs, and something unidentified.
The image on the right shows a male figure with his abdomen and chest opened to reveal the internal organs. He holds a second set of genitalia and a horn. Around him are the liver and gallbladder.

 

The image below is from a text called Provisions for the Traveller and Nourishment for the Sedentary, written by Ahmed Ibn al-Jazzar in Tunisia at the end of the ninth-century. He was the son and nephew of physicians, and set up his own practice where he examined patients, and had his servant administer the medicines. He was also a prolific writer, with medicine being the main topic.The book’s title is misleading since it offers an in-depth guide to healthcare. It covers various diseases and problems, and supplied treatments. Among the topics covered were sexual diseases and their cures. Source: The medievalist

 
This image accompanies a chapter covering men’s sexual problems: It follows al-Jazzar’s theory that having a proper balance in the testicles was the key factor in male sexual health.

 

I found these pregnancy illustrations are from a copy of Ishinhō, the oldest existing medical book in Japan. Originally written by Yasuyori Tanba in 982 A.D., the 30-volume work describes a variety of diseases and their treatment. Much of the knowledge presented in the book originated from China. Source: Pink Tentacle

 

The illustrations shown here are from a copy of the book that dates to about 1860.

 

This woodcut illustration with hand colouring shows the figure of a pregnant woman. I was fascinated at how the body resembled that of a frog ready for dissection.

 

The image belongs to Fasciculus Medicinae, first printed in 1491 in Latin.

As well as delving into ancient manuscripts, I also turned to more realistic medical diagrams of human anatomy such as the ones below.

The image on the left is antique human anatomy lithograph in colour by LyraNebulaPrints. On the right, Human penis; forms dimensions & angles. Dickinson & Legman (1943-1947)

 

I was surprised to find this print of plant anatomy, whose lines and structure resembles the lines and shapes of the female vagina.

 

Grew, Nehemiah, 1641-1712. The anatomy of plants – Biodiversity Heritage Library

 

I turned to some of my favourite artists such as Egon Schiele, Louis Bourgeois and Kiki Smith. And through the process, discovered artists I was unfamiliar with such as Jamie McCartney, whose project The Great Wall of Vagina impressed me. Other work I discovered were the vagina portraits of Ida Applebroog, and embroideries by various artists including Hanna Melin and Gareth Brookes.

 

Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Woman with Black Stockings, 1913. Gouache, watercolour and pencil, 48.3 x 31.8 cm. Private collection, courtesy of Richard Nagy, London

 

There are so many images that I could have posted of Louise Bourgeois, I chose this one because I found it powerful and appropriate to the subject of my post.

 

Caption image 11: Louise Bourgeois. The Cross-Eyed Woman Giving Birth, 2005

 

Kiki Smith, Vagina (ink on paper). Source: artnet

 

Ida Applebroog, one of a collection of over 100 drawings of her vagina. The Source: BlouinArtInfo

 

Illustration by Hanna Melin for the Guardian

 

Embroidery of the female reproductive system. Artist unknown

 

My list of inspirations is ever-growing, especially now that the book is published, and I have more time to continue my research the human body which has become a fascination for me. At the moment, this has lead me to reading some wonderful books and graphic novels on the subject. Here is a brief visual list:

L’Origine du Monde is Liv Stromquist grapgic novel entirely dedicated to the female sexual organs. It includes historical documents, medical references, myths and stereotypes. It is not only a great reference source, but also an extremely sensitive and hilarious piece of work.

 

I have already cited Katy Couprie in a previous post, and I’ll happy repeat it here. Her book, Dictionnaire Fou du Corps is one of my favourite books about the human body.

 

Chapter V from Dictionnaire Fou du Corps, Katy Couprie

 

I was very surprised to find Black Project in a bookshop over the holidays. Who would have thought someone would be capable to embroider an entire graphic novel. As well as being fascinated by the technique, Gareth Brookes shares an intimate and ambiguous story which moved me.

 

 

I am currently reading two new graphic novels that I received as gifts. The first is Une Histoire de Sexe, by Philippe Brenot and Laetitia Coryn. The second is Libres, manifesto pour s’affranchir des diktats sexuels, by Diglee and Ovidie. You can read a review of the book here.

 

 

After all this talk of the images that inspired my work on the sexual organs in the book, I wanted to close this post with some of my own images. If you wish to order a copy of the book, which is now printed and published, you can do so at here.

 

Song of the day

Hedwig & the Angry Inch – The origin of Love