Matthews describes herself as a ‘friendly feminist’ – creating humorous and poignant artworks with a subtly political subtext.
The overall atmosphere of the exhibition is that of a fairground: LabiaLand features the equivalent of a fun-house mirror, a giant coloring book, a bouncy castle, and a welcome sign. The Leitmotif of Matthews’ latest series of works is female genitalia, recontextualized into a symbol of positivity, fun, and joy. Matthews removes the image of the vulva from the context of pornography and the male gaze, and reclaims it through the use of scale, materials, and visitor participation.
Says the artist: “In our popular culture women are still poorly represented. I don’t think we have come into our own. The idea of using the actual, physical image of the vagina for me is a reappropriation into a scale and context which we haven’t seen before. I want to bring the vulva into a friendly, humorous context, an everyday context, into a more receptive way to perceive it that is neither scary nor political in the overt sense.”
For the interactive installation Invulvment Matthews created a giant wall-mounted coloring book mosaic featuring an abstracted drawing of a vulva. Visitors are invited to tear off a section of the drawing, color it in with art supplies provided by the artist, and then place their coloured piece in the adjacent empty space, creating a new, communal artwork. “This is a context where it’s our vag. It’s our funny, it’s our acceptable, it’s our everyday vagina,” says Matthews. “I want to bring it into a new place. It’s not porno, it’s not angry, it’s just everybody’s.”
The large-scale format of Matthews’ drawings abstracts the form of the vagina, and transforms it into a universal icon of femininity. But the artworks’ materiality is equally central to each piece. Her work Soft Box is a cushy, upholstered headboard; the prominent image of a vulva in the centre of the board is as inviting as the lush fabrics the artist chose to create the piece. Equally provocative is the installation See You See Me, which literally challenges our gaze as we see ourselves reflected in a large-format mirror in the shape of a vulva.
Melanie Matthews’ works are an irreverent, playful rebellion, both edgy and innocent. Her works examine the role of women in history and culture with confidence and charm.