Japan’s ‘Vagina Artist’ Denies Obscenity Charges

Japanese sculptor Magumi Igarashi

Japanese sculptor Magumi Igarashi kayaking. Photo: Twitter.

Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi, nicknamed “The Vagina Artist” by the Western media, says there’s nothing obscene about artwork based on her genitalia.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police arrested Igarashi in July 2014 for allegedly emailing crowd-funders of her art project links to a webpage, where they could download 3D data that could be used to create vulva-shaped kayaks based on the shape of her genitals.

Igarashi was again arrested several months later for displaying another artwork based on the shape of her genitalia in a Tokyo sex shop—a clear case of police harassment, according to her lawyer.

For several months prior to her arrest in July 2014, Igarashi, who also goes by the pseudonym ‘Rokudenashiko” ( ろくでなし子 or “good-for-nothing girl”), had gained notoriety for creating and displaying a variety of works of art based on the shape of her genitals.

In Japan, media portraying either the male or female genitalia are illegal under Article 175 of the penal code. The prohibition dates back to the Meiji Period, when Japan adopted Western practices and institutions in the latter half of the 19th Century.

Interestingly, Article 175 offers no clear guidance to police or courts about what constitutes obscenity in these cases:

…There is not a clause in this article, which defines the term “obscenity” and “neither government administrators nor the courts were legally compelled to specify what constituted “obscene material“. It is little wonder that multiple interpretations have been given to this article with regards to its application. If we consider visual material such as manga or cinema, the law has interpreted the term obscenity in this article as the exposure of pubic hair, the adult genitals and the sexual act. Thus, if this should happen the exposed parts in any kind of visual material should be hidden with what in Japan is called bokashi (blurring or fogging) or with a digital mosaic. This extremely vague definition of obscenity has created numerous inconsistencies in court decisions, which are central to the current debate on freedom of speech in Japan.

If convicted, Igarashi faces up to two years in jail and fines of up to 2.5 million yen (US $20,900).

Read more: globalvoicesonline.org

Written by Nevin Thompson
Global Voices

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