I first became aware of the Vagina Museum a few years ago, when I noticed job listings for it on some museum careers websites. At the time, it merely existed online, with no physical location. However, as of October 2019, it has found a home in Camden Market, and since their first exhibition ends on 29th March 2020, I thought it was high time I paid them a visit. I normally avoid Camden Market like the plague – it’s the kind of place you love when you’re a teenager or in your early 20s (as I was when I first discovered it), but you outgrow it real fast, in my case when some sleazy stall owner tried to kiss my neck (ick), so I hadn’t been there in years, and finding the Vagina Museum was a bit of a struggle, though I ultimately located it behind the Italian Alley.
The museum takes up two shopfronts in the market, and felt similar to the Museum of Neoliberalism in size and pop-up style appearance, though the Vagina Museum is searching for a more permanent location where they can hopefully gain more display space, as the current exhibition space feels downright spartan. The museum is free to visit, and the exhibition I saw was called “Muff Busters: Vagina Myths and How to Fight Them,” which is basically exactly what it says on the tin – the presentation of various myths followed by the facts.
I think the Vagina Museum is a great idea in theory – there is a Penis Museum, so why not a vagina one? – but the execution of this exhibition was just not up to scratch. Perhaps in keeping with my observation that Camden appeals most to teenagers, that’s who this exhibition seemed to be aimed at, as these myths were certainly not anything that any adult women of my acquaintance still believe, such as “you can’t get pregnant in a hot tub,” or “you can’t get pregnant if you douche with Coke,” (seriously, who does that last one, and why would you think it’s a good idea?!). In fact, based on my experience, women talk about their vaginas with each other way more than men talk about their penises with each other in a serious way (they might joke about size, but they would be embarrassed to talk about actual medical issues, whereas for most women that’s par for the course), so maybe this exhibition was actually aimed at teenage boys.
But if my theory is correct, the Vagina Museum needs to do a lot more to make their exhibitions visitor friendly, because this was just not, especially for the teenagers who might be attracted in by the name. As you can probably see from the pictures, 95% of the exhibition consisted of really big and wordy text panels, with only a handful of objects, mainly the Instagram friendly bloody tampon and moon cups you’ll see later in the post. Even I got bored with reading them, and I love reading. I know dispelling medical myths is a weighty and worthy topic, but the museum clearly has a sense of humour about itself (they host “pube quiz” evenings and their members are called the “Cliterati”) so it would have been nice if more of this shone through in the exhibition.
There was a small display showing the work of the “featured artist of the month” in the shop, and I think the Vagina Museum could start with featuring more vagina themed art, as literally the only works were the three pieces you can see in the above photo. Since half the museum is actually a museum shop, I think there was certainly room to display more pieces if they changed the arrangement a bit. That said, they do have some pretty neat things in the shop, and I wish the museum was as thoughtfully curated as their merchandise.
This post, accidentally but conveniently, will fall shortly before International Women’s Day (for which I am giving a talk on women of the collection at work – wish me luck!), and I do think we should all be more free to talk about vaginas, as half of the population have them. I have personally had way more than my fair share of gynaecological troubles, and I genuinely can’t believe how ignorant the average GP is about conditions that affect a sizeable percentage of women, let alone how ignorant the general public must be, so I think anything that demystifies the vagina is a worthy cause (I’m angry about the way I’ve been treated over the years, and I think all women deserve better). Because of this, and because they’re a new museum, I’ll cut them some slack and hope they improve with time (and also move away from Camden Market, because that place is seriously the worst). I’ll give them 2.5/5 for now, but I think they have potential – here’s hoping they can live up to it.