Why the name “(In)visible Organ?”
When our team began planning for the art exhibit there were a lot of names floated around.
We asked ourselves “How do we educate the Durham and Duke community about reproductive and sexual health, and specifically cervical cancer, while de-stigmatizing deeply entrenched narratives of shame?”
Exploring this question led our team to three conclusions regarding the exhibits objectives:
(1) It must unveil the hidden inner reproductive anatomy to educate and empower individuals to be proactive agents of their own health, as most people do not know the cervical organ’s function, much less where it is located.
(2) It must “un-center” and reframe narratives of shame and stigma that our society has perpetuated around expressions of feminine sexuality.
(3) It should empower visitors to become proactive agents of change within their own relationship to reproductive health. Visitors should have the freedom and safe space to explore, celebrate, and reconcile their own experiences with sexuality and reproductive health.
For these reasons, our team framed the theoretical underpinnings of our endeavor around the theory of (de)colonial aesthesis (Dr. Walter Mignolo), which purports that we must “uncenter” standard western ideas of beauty to move towards an aesthetic experience that allows us to explore beauty from all senses and experience unencumbered by societies preconceptions of “art.”
We executed this vision through the curation of personal, creative, and proactive representations of reproductive anatomy, gynecological history, and experience (both beautiful such as childbirth and painful such as sexual trauma). Instead of hiding reproductive anatomy, we centered it as something to be admired, cherished, and revered. Our team set out to curate a provocative exhibit space that allowed visitors to engage with the often obscured topic of sexuality and reproductive health, framing it as something considered beautiful.
Academia, critical theory and modalities of government have been developed in the Western World. Centuries later, as we planned, this exhibit we found ourselves wondering,
“Why are critical theories such as those by Kant, still taught when there are scholars and activists who voices are de-centered and not heard?”
“Why do white doctors and their ideas of society and culture still the center of the narrative in the 20th century?”
These are the same questions that we have also raised and heard from women as when it comes to their own healthcare.
“Why are we still using tools that cause the pain and trauma to women?”
“Why are we using the speculum when the device was experimented on enslaved women?”
“Why are we still praising medical professionals who believed that Black people didn’t experience pain like white people did?”
“We want to develop technology that can solve the public health problem and give women the agency to take ownership of their bodies and their tests.”
— Nimmi Ramanujam
As the team considered this vision and many of the questions around shifting the paradigm and bringing new voices to the center, they decided that it was time to un-center both Western Scholars and the way that people view the cervix.
Our team was heavily inspired by a set of theory around (de)coloniality and modernity through aesthetes by Dr. Walter Mignolo.
In this way of thinking, putting the (de) in parentheses is meant to show that it is a flaw in of itself and that we have to recognize this flaw. It questions why Western art has been at the center.
“The point of “decolonial aestheSis” is to “shrink Western views of art down to size and allow the voices of others … shrinking what we’ve been told art can and cannot be.”
— Libby Dotson
Read more about the work of Dr. Mingnolo here:
This theme of pointing out the flaws and de-centering past narratives was introduced from the moment guests entered the art exhibit. The space gave people a visceral understanding of how sexuality has been made uncomfortable when it shouldn’t have to be.
“We’re not trying to disqualify that [the speculum has] saved a lot of lives, but we’re trying to make things more accessible. We’re trying to democratize health care.”
— Libby Dotson
Read more about the curators decisions to choose the exhibit name in this article!