We love showcasing and promoting women who are doing badass things for other women around the world. At GTHQ we have showcased a number of artists and creative visionaries who use their art to share powerful and important messages. We’ve seen some pretty confronting and thought-provoking images that raise awareness about gender inequality, feminism, and taboos against female bodies.
There is something to be said about using art, creativity and entertainment as a way to shift perspectives on certain topics, that politics or education perhaps cannot. Because art is so subjective and an entirely different medium than politics, messages can often be shared in a less intrusive or “preachy” manner, which in turn makes it all the more appealing. You don’t like it? Simply walk away.
It is what makes Ukrainian artist Maria Kulikovska awesome. She is a woman determined to share thoughtful and powerful messages and does so using her artistic talent. In a feature for CBC Arts‘ series ‘Interrupt This Program’, she talks about using her life as a form of protest, and in a number of her artistic projects, her body has become the canvas for creating provacative imagery.
Some of the issues she regularly tackles include sexism and the patriarchy. It is a country where feminist activism has certainly grown recently. You may already be familiar with the protest group Femen, who formed in 2008 in the city of Kiev and was founded by Anna Hutsol. They are known for their signature topless protests. The organization has grown so big that they now have members all over the world and regularly protest issues concerning women in countries such as Italy, Russia and Turkey.
Like Maria, Femen are determined to “damn the patriarchy” and protest against sex trafficking, prostitution and negative gender stereotypes that still exist in the Ukraine, as shown in some of their laws. Women’s News Network reports the legal minimum age for marriage is 17 years for women and 18 years for men, although Ukrainian courts can authorize marriage from the age of 14 years if it is clear that “the marriage is in the person’s interests”.
In the government, only 7% of the Ukrainian parliament is women compared to 22% in the British and 45% in the Swedish parliaments. The country’s Prime Minister once famously defended forming an all-male cabinet with the argument that “conducting reforms is not women’s business”. When women are not includes in the legislative process, there’s a good chance women’s issues are not exactly going to be taken seriously. Which is what makes protest groups like Femen, who have gained global media attention, and artists like Maria Kulikovska an important part of moving the country toward a more equal and democratic society.
With recent political tensions in the country, there has never been a better time for Maria to use her artwork to promote women’s rights and raise awareness about issues such as violence and sexism.
“As an artist I am always working with questions about women and who owns our body and our life. Now in this time of the war I cannot continue to work with just these questions in these safe frames. It is something inside me that wishes to change something. I want to push these questions and be out in the open and discuss these things. I want to stop the violence,” she told CBC Arts.
Her latest project is called ‘Flowers For Democracy’ where she makes plaster molds of her vagina, “plants” them in flower pots and places them outside and around government buildings. The idea for using such a provocative image came after a previous project she created in 2012 which focused on the fragility of life and death. She made molds of her entire body using soap and displayed them at IZOLYATSIA, the first cultural center of its kind in Donetsk, Ukraine.
As the rain and weather decayed the sculptures, all that was left was the metal vertebrae. But in 2014 as pro-Russian separatists infiltrated the country and made life difficult for many Ukrainians, the cultural center was seized and Maria’s art work used as target practice for the army.
This gave her idea of using artwork based on her body yet again to show how women’s bodies are often used as “target practice”, so to speak, by society in different ways. Sexism and domestic violence became the central theme of the Flowers for Democracy project. Using materials like gypsum and plaster, she makes molds of her vagina, waits for them to dry and paints each of them pink. So far she has made well over 300 casts!
This project also gave Maria the idea to start a Flowers for Democracy workshops where she teaches other women to make the plaster molds, but more importantly, how to take ownership of their bodies and to take action against the perpetrators of violence and sexism toward women.
The “pink pussys” may cause a stir around Kiev and make many feel uncomfortable at the site of a replica of a vagina, but hopefully it will be enough to start conversations and create change around the treatment of women’s bodies and violence toward women. If you had to choose what was worse, seeing a flower pot with a mold of someone’s vagina outside a government building, or seeing a woman beaten up due to abuse, which one would you prefer? We have a feeling we know which one you would pick.
We admire artists like Maria who are willing to be controversial and risk ostracization in the hope that her work will deliver a powerful message about an issue that deserves more attention. You can see a short clip of how Maria makes her plaster molds below: