When Sophia Wallace first began to consider the clitoris as the subject-matter for her next project, her first thought was simply, “you can’t go there.” Once the seed had been planted in her brain, however, she realized that she “really didn’t have a choice.” The world was expressing an obvious need to be educated about the clitoris, and she would do the best she could to fill that need. As a part of that process, Wallace recently presented her work to a photography class at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.
Wallace, a Brooklyn-based photographer, had already embarked upon several projects documenting the LGBTQ community through still image when she started her cliteracy campaign in 2013. For this project, she decided to use mixed media, something less literal than photography, to help educate the world about the clitoris.
“It was obvious from the get-go,” says Wallace, “that this was a case in which the image would actually harm the subject.”
Instead, Wallace made stencils of the word clit, a definition of the word cliteracy, an eye chart of the word cliteracy, the 12 commandments of cliteracy and other text-based images, which she uses to spray-paint directly onto public spaces and to make posters on newsprint paper that she wheat-pastes around New York City. In addition, Wallace assembled a 10X15 foot visual poster of what she calls, “the 100 laws of cliteracy.” She uses the word ‘law,’ because nobody—not religion, nor government, or social stereotype—can take away the natural rights of a human being.
“The word clitoris,” she explains, “comes from a Greek word for ‘little hill,’ so the word is innately diminutive. The clit is often referred to as a ‘spot,’ or a ‘little button.’ We live in a false frame of the penis and the lack of penis, in which power comes from either having a phallus or giving birth. In truth, the clitoris is much larger than most people think, but it’s impossible to show in a photograph. “The experience of a body,” explains Wallace, “is something that cannot be seen just from an image of a body.”
Wallace is determined to spread cliteracy so that an important aspect of female sexuality and individuality is no longer subjugated, but also because clitorectomies are also still prevalent in the United States.
“Our idea of female genital mutilation as only existing far away from our civilized west is just not true,” says Wallace. “There is still a high rate of cosmetic vaginal surgery in the United States. This is a surgery that makes the vagina much like the clean plastic Barbie version that many people know. It causes a great deal of pain and problems for the woman involved.”
Wallace is interested in getting the word about the clit, or cliteracy, out wherever she can. In New Mexico, Wallace recently mounted a cliteracy billboard on the side of I-25 near the Algodones exit to help spread the word.
* Photographs by Tim Kassiotis and Amanda Tyler