TOKYO – A Japanese artist was jailed on charges of obscenity after she built a kayak modeled after her own vagina.
Megumi Igarashi, 42, who works under the alias Rokude Nashiko, which means “good-for-nothing girl” in Japanese, said on Wednesday that she was “outraged” by her arrest.
The artist, whose body of work includes figures of Lady Gaga, has promised to fight the charges in court, saying that she made the vagina kayak to challenge a culture of “discrimination” surrounding the discussion of the vagina in Japanese society.
The bright yellow kayak with a vagina-shaped top was built primarily through crowd funding, through which Igarashi raised $10,000.
As a thank you to donors, she sent 3D printer data of her scanned vagina, which served as the digital basis for the kayak.
Police arrested her on Saturday for distributing indecent material. If convicted, she faces a maximum of two years in prison and as much as $25,000 in fines.
According to Igarashi, around10 police officers showed up at her house on Saturday, for what she first thought was a raid on her pop-art exploration of the “manko”, which is the Japanese street term for vagina.
In an interview with reporters from news agency Reuters, Igarashi recounted : “I couldn’t stop myself from laughing a little as I explained to the grim-looking officers, ‘This is the Lady Gaga ‘manko’ figure.'”
“I did not expect to get arrested at all. Even as they were confiscating my works, I thought to myself, ‘This will be a good story’. Then they handcuffed and arrested me. Now, I just feel outraged,” she added.
Already, her arrest has sparked a movement for her immediate release, with more than 17,000 people signing a petition via the Change.org online platform.
By Japanese law, she can be detained until the end of July before charges are filed.
From her jail cell, Igarashi explained that she delved into art as a medium to address the double standard that is generally applied to female and male genitalia in the context of Japanese culture.
The vagina “has been such a taboo in Japanese society”, she wrote on her website. “It’s been overly hidden although it’s just a part of a woman’s body.”
Kazuyuki Minami, the artist’s lead defense lawyer, said that Igarashi has sparked a debate on the issues of women’s rights and the freedom of artistic expression.
Minami explained that the legal definition of what is considered obscene is unclear in Japan, and the case rests on deciding whether the vagina itself can be deemed obscene.
“It will be a difficult battle,” Minami said.
Igarashi has already started writing about her experiences in jail.