Photos of Rokudenashi-ko (ろくでなし子) a.k.a. Megumi Igarashi (五十嵐恵),...

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Photos of Rokudenashi-ko (ろくでなし子) a.k.a. Megumi Igarashi (五十嵐恵), a Japanese artist currently on trial for obscenity. Igarashi is facing the charges over a kayak she made with 3D printer data of her own vagina. 

From a January interview with The Daily Beast:

What statement were you trying to make with this project?
In Japan, women’s vaginas are treated as though they are men’s property. The trains here usually display pornographic advertisements. As a woman, I find that blatant objectification to be humiliating. I’m disgusted by it. My body belongs to me.

So, with this project I wanted to release the vagina from the standard Japanese paradigm. Japan is lenient towards expressions of male sexuality and arousal, but not so for women. When a woman uses her body in artistic expression, her work gets ignored, and people treat her as if she’s some sex-crazed idiot. It all comes back to misogyny. And the vagina is at the heart of it.

How is the vagina at the heart of misogyny?
The vagina is ridiculed. It’s lusted after. Men don’t see women as equals—to them, women are just vaginas. Then they call my vagina-themed work “obscene,” and judge me according to laws written by and for men.

Since last July, you have continued to make vagina-themed artwork while knowing that you risk arrest and worse. Why haven’t you stopped? What would it take for you to quit?
Why should I stop? [Laughs] Let them kill me. Because I will die before I stop making art.

Since the reporting of Rokudenashi-ko’s case began with her first arrest last summer, the case has frequently been dismissed in the press as a quirky news item or merely an artist seeking publicity. Japan Today’s article “Obscenity arrest may be hiding dirty politics,” shatters these notions, exploring the deeper political motivations behind the arrests of Rokudenashi-ko and her colleague, sex toy shop manager and political writer Minori Watanabe. 

Watanabe was arrested for “displaying obscene goods in her shop window in collusion with Igarashi.” But it’s important to note that Watanabe has been a vocal critic in the press of the conservative administration and prime minister Shinzo Abe’s pro-war, anti-free speech policies. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Watanabe (under her pen name, Minori Kitahara) in the Asahi Shimbun from June 2014:

Since Abe came to power, the state secrets law has been passed and the Diet has reinterpreted (the principle of) collective self-defense,” she said. “It’s not a coincidence. We live in a world where hate speech flourishes and we’re closer to going to other countries to kill people. I feel as if we are no longer allowed to criticize the state. It’s scary.

Within months, Watanabe was arrested on obscenity charges. “Obscenity” and “state secrets” are two sides of the same coin: terms without definition that can be molded at will to persecute artists and journalists who step out of line. This dark climate of suppression can be rather depressing, but it’s Rokudenashi-ko’s unassailable upbeat attitude that wins out at the end of the day:

I see myself as an artist who turns anger into smiles through manga and art. […] I don’t intend to fight anger through demonstrations or rallies, I’d rather express myself through art and make people smile.