“If You Start Looking, You Can See Vulvas Everywhere”
What is there in common between an open pink beauty bag, half a melon, or a a hatch covered in moss? Dasha Buben, a feminist, artist, and photographer from Gomel, is certain that all those objects can help draw attention to women’s issues. Since spring 2016, Dasha has been capturing and posting everyday objects on her Instagram that look like vulvas with the hashtag #everydayifindnewpussy. She talked to Bird in Flight about why she looks for similarity to body parts in hollows and fruits and how it helps advocate for women’s rights.
Born in Gomel (Belarus), lives in Warsaw. Worked as a photo editor for KG newspaper and Timer magazine. Creator and curator of the One Photograph Gallery project during Vulica Brasil festival in Minsk. Exhibited her work in group and solo exhibitions in Minsk, Vilnius, Warsaw, and Vitebsk.
— Everything started as a mixture of fun personal observations and a slight provocation aimed against the dominating phallocentric concept. I have always been interested in themes such as sexuality and femininity, but when I first started finding images of vulvas and posting them on Instagram, I couldn’t have imagined what this game would become later. As the number of images grew, I got to thinking — why am I doing this? And then I had this unexpected, but conscious, answer: I realized that it is important for me to raise the issue of visibility of women in society. Are we as visible as men are? Doesn’t it happen that our problems remain hidden, invisible for the majority of other people?
I realized that in Belarus the issues related to sexuality are to a large extent a taboo, and I liked flirting with it. Even before I became a ‘pussy hunter’, I would often use different objects to create something that looked like a part of a human body: penises or breasts made of balloons. It was sort of a game and a search that people around me perceived as a joke. As time passed, I started observing what was going on around me more closely, and at the same time, I was reading about feminism and gender issues. Then, I felt a lot of pain in relation to different gender issues, I worried a lot, and I backed up those emotions and that worry with some theory.
I educated myself, and I worded arguments to be stronger in disputes. At the same time, many different things started opening to me on a sensual level. Sensually — I mean, in art, in photography, in the way I saw things. I subscribed to a bunch of body-positive Instagram accounts and feminist projects, and I started studying the history of the feminist movement and art. It is surprising how uneducated I used to be on the issue, although I had studied art history for a total of ten years. I think all of this has eventually led to the #everydayifindnewpussy project: I realized clearly that I don’t want to be supporting the phallocentric concept anymore.
This project freed me, I started allowing myself do more things in photography. I used to think that if a photograph is not taken on medium format, it is not worth being shown to the audience. Now, the visual part is more important to me, sometimes even only the concept. And when they work together, it’s great. I also understood that having political views is punishable. Did you say you were a feminist? Be ready to explain yourself! In our society, any political statement leads to responsibility, and feminism is politics.
The #everydayifindnewpussy project impacts the visibility of women’s issues. People would often notice the photographs and ask: “Hey, what is it? Is it what I think it is? Why did you start doing this? What’s so interesting in this for you?” And when I answer these questions, I also tell them about feminism, gender, violence against women, and in general about the patriarchal system that we all still live in. Photography triggers discussion. When people hear my comments and explanations, they stop giggling and start thinking. A joke often becomes a pretext to talk about some very important things.
I realized that this project went beyond ‘fun’ and started working out after two events. The first was my interview on the makeout.by website. After it was published, many young women suddenly started writing me to say that it was very important that I was raising those issues and thanked me. I guess that was the first time I ‘came out’ with this to the world, beyond the cosy circle of loyal Instagram subscribers. And it turned out that many people are following the development of my project and are ready to give me feedback. It was interesting and exciting.
At the same time, I also raised the issue of self-love, I described personal body-related transitional moments and my depressive states a lot — the things that I went through myself. The interview became the starting point for people to recognize me, invite me to projects and discussions. People started subscribing to my account.
The second event is photograph in the #everydayifindnewpussy style published on the cover of Bolshoy [Big] magazine. We did a staged studio shoot of an open pink beauty bag ‘inspired’ by similar work from the project. Of course, it was a bit weird that the photographs turned out to be rather big — much bigger than the usual ‘phone’ format. This kind of acknowledgement helped me feel strong. I realized that you should be afraid, you should just go and do things, say things, and not come up with excuses: “I will grow a little smarter, will read more books, will buy a better camera,” — and so on. Any acknowledgement always makes you more confident and strong. Doubts still remain, but you would work with them at the level of honest understanding: yes, it may be that something doesn’t work out, something may not happen, but if it is important for you to speak, you should continue doing that.
There are in fact many vulvas around, there are plenty almost everywhere. The most well-known stereotype is fruit. They are indeed juicy and wet, and when you cut them, you realize that the resemblance is obvious. However, there are many more similar objects: trees with cut off branches that have bark growing over the cut, hollows, holes in pavement, fabric folds. If you start looking, you can see vulvas everywhere. I continue looking for vulvas, I just takes pictures on my phone in the city or at home. So, this is a purely ‘here and now’ format. Moreover, people I don’t know also started adding pictures with the hashtag #everydayifindnewpussy. I thinks that this project has the chance of becoming long-term, and expand to new media and formats. The coolest thing is that it enabled me to bring up more serious topics and talk about violence, sexist, gaslighting, and so on. And I am convinced that I am heard.
Yes, there is a risk to enter the history of photography as a ‘pussy hunter’. I may be a bit scared that my other projects that are less funny will find it hard to be more successful than #everydayifindnewpussy.
There is of course no goal to keep posting pictures all the time: after all, many ideas have already been captured. But if I happen to notice anything new — of course, I post this picture to Instagram. It would be interesting to recreate some of the ideas in studio, in the future there may be even sculptures or installations. The vulva as an art object is endless, as is the number of women in the world — there is always something to work with. One day, I may put it all together to make a large-scale project about women: there is still so much that we need to say. That’s why… let’s see, maybe I do remain a ‘pussy hunter’.