Sophia Wallace: Cliteracy
Interview by Cory Tallman
What was the concept behind your concept?
On it’s face, CLITERACY 100 Natural Laws may appear to be focused on sexual pleasure. In fact, the target of the work is much broader. CLITERACY explores the effect when one’s body is constructed primarily to benefit a more powerful group through denying its autonomy and anatomy, vilifying its pleasure and controlling its reproduction. Using large scale, minimalist text as form, CLITERACY de-naturalizes the way that the female body is constituted within an economy of lack. The methods used to control female bodies share some characteristics with other forms of domination. Philosophers, scientists, ethnographers and religious leaders have also legitimized the enslavement and colonization of people by white Europeans. Indeed literacy itself was outlawed for many enslaved subjects. The use of the word literacy was therefore extremely important which I then combined the word clitoris in response to the widespread disregard of the clitoris psychoanalysis, architecture, visual culture and education. It is curious to observe the paradox that on the one hand, the female body is the primary metaphor for sexuality. Its use saturates advertising, art and mainstream erotic imagery. Yet, the clitoris, the true female sexual organ – is virtually invisible. The discovery of the true scale and complexity of the clitoris is only 15 years old and still has not reached most people. One wonders, how is it possible that something seemingly so known, is still unknown? CLITERACY takes aim at the hubris of this phallic logic and goes further exploring the production of knowledge itself. The project questions political legitimacy in the denial of the embodiment of half of the population.
What relationship do you see between words and their function?
In CLITERACY, 100 Natural Laws, I took the role of the clitigator laying out my case for the clit, law by law. I chose to use the language of Natural Law because its authority precedes the mandate of states, countries and religious bodies. Natural laws are inalienable. In much of the world women do not hold dominion over their own bodies, and even in this country, women are too often acquiescing to sex acts that do not give them pleasure. The laws fall into several categories, including representations of sex, rights, discoveries about the clit, clit swag, and more. The clit swag section contains laws such as “Sleepin’ on the clit? That shit cray”, “Ain’t no half-steppin’ to the clit” and “Yes Clitoris”. The clit swag section is important because female genitals are almost exclusively spoken of in negative terms. It is not a coincidence that pussy, cunt and twat are considered some of the lowest insults.
Up until 1998 could be described as a pre-clitoris world. Is there a post clitoris world?
Is there a post penis world? Ideally everyone’s genitals can be respected. What would it look like if sex was not thought of in terms of a phallus and a lack, but rather two embodied wholes that engage each other for mutual pleasure? What would sex look like if it wasn’t about destruction of a receptive body? What would sex look like if pleasure, not a specific act, was the guiding principle?
How do words have the ability to shape thought?
The word vagina, aptly illustrates the danger of presuming that language is neutral. Vagina is a Latin word, meaning sheath for a sword. Figuratively and literally, use of the word vagina reduces female genitals to a hole, excluding the clitoris and all other parts of the vulva. No wonder that representations of sex almost never include a clitoris being a primary focus, despite the fact that more than 70% of women orgasm from direct stimulation of their clitoris. It’s laughable to imagine a man being expected to orgasm from sex acts that ignored his penis. Interestingly, women often blame themselves when they don’t orgasm from sex that dismisses their anatomy. In sex education, the clitoris is almost never mentioned. The lessons focus on boy’s erections and wet dreams and for the girls, birth control methods and menstruation. So yes, words and images have the ability to shape thought. If you look at the ways sex has been constructed to empower the heterosexual penis, I would way it has been pretty effective.
Literacy is a learned concept. Is cliteracy approached in the same way?
Yes! There are so many benefits from cliteracy that I will leave to everyone to discover on their own. Only good outcomes can result from cliteracy.
Detaching sexual satisfaction from the vagina and giving that role to the clitoris is a revolution in itself. How would you describe the relationship between the deposed and the deposer?
Freud invented the vaginal orgasm in 1905 and many people continue to invest in the idea that the vagina is the appropriate space for female pleasure. The obsession with virginity shows that there is still an obsession with what the penis does in the vagina more than whether a woman is experiencing pleasure. Science has only studied the female body in terms of reproduction, that which did not conform to ideas of the female body as the inverse of the male body. There are more than 8000 nerves in the tip of the clit, which is similar to the glans of the penis – only the penis has 4000 nerves. The internal clit also has nerves while there are virtually no nerves in the vagina – if there were, childbirth would be untenable. The critical point is not to depose but rather to give credit where credit is due, straight to the clit. When the clit is aroused it surrounds the vagina and makes penetration feel good. Without arousal, penetration can be a bland or terribly painful experience. If there is any question about this, consider the effectiveness of female genital mutilation. When a woman’s external clit is removed, her ability to achieve pleasure from her internal clit, which is accessed through the vagina, is extinguished. While some women prefer to orgasm from internal stimulation of their clit alone, the majority of women will never orgasm without stimulation of their external clit. Why should they? Part of the issue here is that reproductive sex is fetishized. All of us who are having sex for pleasure are vilified within this frame. Reproduction can happen through sex or interventions. Even if one does choose to reproduce, most people want to have sex more than a handful of times in their life. Therefore, sex is primarily about pleasure, meaning that we should all have access to the pleasure our bodies are capable of. This gets back to the clit. If you want to drive, press the gas. If you want to pleasure your female lover, address her clit. Unfortunately, mass culture continues to be terrified of authentic female sexuality.
Why did you choose strictly words to create your piece?
I knew for this project, I would not use literal images of the female body. I would rather address the subject in a way that was conceptual, monumental, rigorous and free. These are not the adjectives often used to describe female genitals. I wanted viewers to think of female sexuality conceptually, without having a literal body to latch onto. It was important to me that the work conveys an experience of infrastructure and of solid strength – both seen and unseen. Most of the clitoris is inside the body and can’t be observed by eye. And yet, we don’t measure our brains or hearts, yet we respect their vital function, so certainly it is possible. I wanted the work to be geared towards the viewer and to have an immediacy that would encourage dialog. Cliteracy is art, is a meme and is everything.
If Webster needed a descriptive sentence for ‘cliteracy’ in its next dictionary, what would you suggest?
Fundamental to being cliterate; the applied knowledge that the clitoris is the alpha and omega of the female orgasm.
Read more about Sophia Wallace in the Huffington Post.