Image Map

In the Frame: Woman Offers Her Body as Men’s Tattoo Canvas. Is This Art?

23-year-old Shauna Taylor is proud to own an original piece by Damien Hirst. If you want to have a look, she's showing it within the pages of Garage magazine—a new publication edited by Dasha Zhukova, who runs a gallery in Moscow and used to edit Pop, the biannual fashion bible. A word of warning: Shauna isn't flaunting one of Hirst's trendy spot paintings. She's been tattooed to order by him, on the labia, with a lurid green butterfly, hidden only by a sticker that says "Peel Slowly and See." This is part of the Inked project for Garage's first issue, taking human canvases to be permanently marked.

[Shauna Taylor, photographed with sticker to hide the sensitive artwork, for Garage magazine].


The official title of Hirst's work is "Butterfly Divided" as the image fits on the two symmetrical halves of this part of the body, with Shauna's tampon string dangling down in between. Subtle it is not. Yet glossy fashion magazines and modern art titles are constantly turning to the female anatomy for their boundary pushing, and it does feel a bit tired now.

I love reading magazines that think outside the box, but the glossies invariably contain topless objectified models—this includes Dasha Zhukova's former title, Pop. The current issue of Wonderland magazine (a UK-based style publication, a bit like an artier, edgier version of Vogue) goes further with several gratuitous chest and crotch shots of women, followed by a photo feature on men's underwear that only shows the odd bit of ass. The male models were allowed to have the camera following their silhouette rather than their every intimate bump and crevice. I'm not saying I want to see naked men staring back at me from these pages—I really don't see how it's imaginative or relevant—but I don't expect to see such blatant disparity between male and female models and the lengths they'll go to for the perfect shot. It's not just being perpetuated by male photographers or stylists, either; this is a genderless problem as it seems that the fashion industry relies on the naked female form as much as the art world does. Shauna, whilst not a professional model herself, feels symptomatic of this imbalance between male and female exposure. Being a willing participant is all well and good, but if Shauna was a man then I get the feeling the tattoo would not be in such an intimate place on the body, and neither would "Peel Slowly and See" have the same appeal if we were discussing a man, simply because it sounds so sexually suggestive and typical of upper-shelf porn mags targeted at guys.

[An alternative cover to Garage magazine, Issue 1].


We should also consider the long-term consequences of "Butterfly Divided." The design was Hirst's idea, yet it's Shauna who will live with it every day, which seems to be typical of some men's desire to impose their view of the world on women. She must like the butterfly to have agreed to it, and perhaps it suggests freedom or nature to her, but to me it loses its grace because it's all just a stunt. Shauna's happy acceptance is, of course, her choice, and she has a right to do as she pleases, but it feels to me like Hirst has had the last laugh. If his living, breathing canvas decided she was sick of being "that girl with the tattoo" then she would have to endure a painful laser removal process. If she later regrets the photograph being taken and publicized, she cannot take it back, because Garage's presentation of the art has made it go viral. The power of the Internet has captured Shauna's butterfly piece forever, whether she likes it or not, and she will be tied to Hirst's legacy of crude shock tactics (which includes a dead shark preserved in formaldehyde). Shauna is essentially a marketing tool and puppet for Garage and Hirst.

I'm particularly horrified that Garage magazine is being heralded as progressive when it features something like this. Shauna Taylor may be enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, but she's also being exploited by male-orientated media. It's surely not a coincidence that this is Garage's first issue, thereby giving it substantial coverage and free publicity with this tacky photograph. Perhaps if Dasha Zhuvoka and Damien Hirst really thought this was intelligently creative, they would offer themselves as the canvas to be inked.

Bitch Media publishes the award-winning quarterly magazine, Bitch:Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

15 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Ouch! What a freaking painful

Ouch! What a freaking painful thing to endure. Such an extremely sensitive organ I would be afraid it would be damaged! I hope she is in fine health! I want to cry just thinking about it. You would never hear of a penis being inked but when it's a lady's vagina somehow it's not the same attitude, it's somehow acceptable and that is disturbing. I think vaginas are beautiful in the natural state.

really? you've never heard of

really? you've never heard of a tattooed penis? what would even lead you to believe that that hasn't been done?

also, as per my nature, i also have to question your implicit equation of vagina with lady. not a nice thing to do.

and though i also find bodies beautiful in the natural state, i don't see why any body part shouldn't be potentially beautiful in the tattooed state too. don't yuck other people's yum.

i do agree with the criticism of this (nobody should feel they have to resort to extreme body mods to feel sexually interesting or relevant), but i do think it could have been more nuanced.

incidentally, i tihnk 'peel slowly and see' is a reference to a velvet underground album cover. of a banana. so that would be the reference.

I do not appreciate your

I do not appreciate your attack on my comment. A lady's vagina... or a trans persons, girls, womans, riot grrrl's. I did not think I had to specify given this is a feminist community.
I know there are men out there that have gotten their penises tattooed but it never seems to be publized like this. I just don't like the thought that's it's more of a novelty to mainstream culture when females (trans, girls, womens, lady's etc). I know she chose this but the way it is presented still reeks of objectification as Bitch pointed out.
I was also thinking that if your genitals were damaged by accident while getting that done- that would be horrible, that I think it's more sensitive and not as safe to be working on as other parts of the body.
Was that "nuanced" enough for you.
I detest people on the internet who make a million assumptions and disections of peoples comments or beliefs.

I saw a tattoed penis. A few,

I saw a tattoed penis. A few, actually. They were always really eager to show them off.

Ugh get over it. She got a

Ugh get over it. She got a tattoo. Life goes on. And this article is actually hugely negative and you should be just a little bit ashamed. SHE decided to let someone else pick a tattoo for her. As you said, she obviously liked it enough to agree to it. It doesn't scream anything obscene except perhaps that it's in an unusual and sexual place. This kind of article would never be published if a woman tattoo artist tattooed a man's genitalia. This woman didn't sacrifice her integrity, on a physical, cerebral or emotional level, she just got a tattoo. She wasn't forced. It's artsy, it's edgy, and above all else it's not sexist, its just a butterfly! Woman are the worst for perpetuating this negative victimized-thinking and when we get over it and actually act like normal people we'll find it's women that set womankind back, women and some of our backwards thinking and angry defensiveness, not men. And you say that, by definition, it doesn't matter how she feels about it because its just a "stunt". You should be ashamed of yourselves. The only thing that matters about a woman's body is that she is satisfied with it, and you're negating everything we should be doing by saying basically "oh look at the degenerate- she did something sexually deviant, and is therefore obviously just a pawn in the patriarchy, and not a woman with particular interests and desires in search of self-expression." We should celebrate her self-expression, as a community of supportive women. Bitch magazine indeed.

Whoa there

Hi Miz_Mag,

First of all, I disagree with you that women are to blame for patriarchy because of our "backwards thinking" or because we don't act like "normal people." Patriarchy is complicated and yes, sometimes women perpetuate it, but that doesn't mean that women are somehow solely responsible. At all. Not even kind of.

Second, something can be a butterfly and still be sexist. I don't know the woman who got the Hirst tattoo, but Polly's point that the reason this tattoo got attention was because it was put on a young, conventionally attractive white woman's genitals by a famous man still stands, regardless of whether or not you think she's expressing herself (I for one have no idea what her motivations for getting the tattoo were or whether or not they had anything to do with self expression). That's worth examining, which is what Polly is doing here.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Damian Hirst has always

Damian Hirst has always freaked me out. That guy's work with the animals is fucking creepy.

Regardless of his creepiness, Shauna agreed to the tattoo fully knowing that they're permanent. Everyone who agrees to a tattoo has potential to regret it. I've had a tattoo removed. And everyone who agrees to a revealing photo has the potential to regret it. I honestly don't think that it's our place to worry whether or not she's going to regret it. Do we worry whether women who go into porn are going to regret it later? Or women who pose nude for artistic photos? Or women who decide to go into the sex industry?

I'm also not so sure she's being exploited here. She knows exactly what she got into, and I would only argue that she's being exploited if she didn't realize what she signed up for. She's not mentally incompetent, she's not a minor, and I'm going to believe she knows who Damien Hirst is.

Why can't Shauna be seen as

Why can't Shauna be seen as an individual with creative agency? One who knowingly chooses to participate in an artistic 'stunt'? Both she and Hirst attempt to push the boundaries of what is considered art. To reduce her integral participation in the project to 'a canvas' that is projected onto by the patriarchal art world is kind of ridiculous. I would like to believe that she wanted to be tattooed not so she could 'be proud to own an original Damien Hirst' but so she could become an original artwork. I'm sure some will argue that this concept fetishisizes her self and her body, but I think it should be looked at the other way around. Hirst (and the other artists involved) are unfetishisizing art and challenging the common idea that art is an object, meant to be viewed.

I am not a fan of Hirst in the least but to refer to what he has done in the art world as merely 'crude shock tactics' is absurd. Of course they are shock tactics, like the shock tactics of the hundreds of artists who came before. The difference is Hirst has challenged the contemporary art market to question the validity of what is considered art, the 'branding' of an artist and the notion of value. All ideas that I believe are needed in a contemporary, capitalist art world. It's so easy to hate on Hirst but I think what he has done deserves some recognition.

The art world has 'relied on the female form' since the Venus of Willendorf (and has also relied on depictions of the male form). In contemporary times, we are faced with the coalescence of media and art -- which I think this whole project is partially addressing. But to equate the issues of female portrayal in fashion with art doesn't make total sense to me.

Maybe I am overreaching here and giving too much credit to Shauna. Maybe she is just a girl who wanted a Damien Hirst tattoo. Maybe she had no intention of these photographs going viral on the internet, being subjected to the male gaze for an eternity. But I'd like to think that perhaps we could afford her the option of being a willing, intelligent participant and an individual that would like to challenge the norms of the art world, instead of placing her in the position of a submissive, compliant canvas that is submitted to the imposition of men's view of the world.

The problem is that one can

The problem is that one can be an active intelligent participant - and at the same time be exploited. Didn't women who were forbidden to have a bank account without their father or husband's permission or to go to the university try to make the most of their lifes? Of course they did, and very very many did a terrific job out of it. Does it mean there was no problem at all with their circumstances? Of course not. Discussing the terrible circumstances they had to live in does not diminish their achievements or make them submissive compliant nobodys.

Here, the problem is pointed out very clearly by the author: somehow it is predominantly women who get the crotch shots. It is systematic, and it is not normal. It does not mean the women who appear in those pictures did not choose what's best for them; what it means is that the very _range_ of their choices was set up that way by the patriarchy. And this is a big problem.

I have a tattoo on my vag. It

I have a tattoo on my vag. It was put there by a man. I don't think it's "lurid", in fact I find it beautiful, which is why I got it. I also don't think I chose to get a tattoo there because I'm a blind victim of the patriarchy. Women who shame other women that express their sexuality, by calling them "brainwashed" are just as bad as the men who shame us.

Lurid? Really?

The only thing I am shocked by is the way this article victimizes Shauna. (2nd to last paragraph). She will have to live with it the rest of her life- because it is a tattoo, and I'm sure she knew that going in. No one held her down and photographed her without her consent. Since this was for a magazine, I'm sure she was aware that the photograph would be seen by many. And she did it anyway. I don't see the problem. I am not a fan of Hirst, but I think it is unfair to claim that he used her as nothing more than a puppet and marketing tool for shock value. You portray her as an eager to please, compliant victim who didn't know what she was REALLY getting herself into.
If a female artist debuted this tattoo on the cover of a new magazine, this would be a different article all together. So is the issue here that she had the "lurid" tattoo at all, or just the fact that it was done by --gasp-- a man? If a man makes art on or about female form, does that make it not art?
If she later regrets that she had her labia tattooed, photographed, and submitted to the world, that will likely be because of the shaming that is perpetuated by posts like this. Maybe art has relied on the female form for so long, because it is something of beauty. As an artist (and a female) I don't see the problem here.

Lurid means very vivid in

Lurid means very vivid in color, so sounds like a pretty good description. I didn't read this article as victimizing Shauna at all. It is her tattoo, something I think was very brave to do but I also see where the article is coming from; why so much anger?

Not to be nit-picky, but

Not to be nit-picky, but lurid also means "presented in vividly shocking or sensational terms, esp. giving explicit details of crimes or sexual matters". yay words with multiple meanings!

Yes, Angry.

Yes, it also means "to cause revulsion," a choice of words I don't think was accidental. A choice of words I believe promotes shame. For a feminist magazine who runs an ongoing series on the life of sex workers, that's goal is to be supportive of women and the choices they make with their bodies, (even if said choices mean they are offering themselves to men and being exploited by them) this article is a little judgy to me. You would never see the H-word articles being titled: "Woman offers her body as man's commodity, is this business?" So the anger comes from simply reading this article.

I do believe that women can choose to do something, and be exploited for it at the same time. But I feel like the overall tone of this article diminishes Shauna to nothing but a victim of marketing propaganda- and Hirst to nothing but a villain.

"Shauna’s happy acceptance is, of course, her choice, and she has a right to do as she pleases, but it feels to me like Hirst has had the last laugh." If this tattoo were done by a woman, would we be singing her praises, or would we be painting her as a villain laughing over her latest victim? Or would we be less inclined to question whether it is in fact art?

"If his living, breathing canvas decided she was sick of being "that girl with the tattoo" then she would have to endure a painful laser removal process. If she later regrets the photograph being taken and publicized, she cannot take it back, because Garage's presentation of the art has made it go viral." -- All are hypothetical problems that might (or more probably might not) come up as a result of HER CHOICE. By painting her as a potential victim because she might regret HER OWN CHOICES is ridiculous. As women, we have to own our choices and stop shaming each other for them.