bex day | petal

Within the realm of art, some artisans craft for the sheer pleasure of aesthetics, while others dare to defy societal conventions, fracture stereotypes, and kindle thought-provoking dialogues. Bex Day, a visionary photographer, undoubtedly belongs to the latter category. Her latest photographic series, Petal is a testament to her commitment to reshaping representation and confronting patriarchal narratives. Petal is a groundbreaking collection that aims to celebrate the uniqueness of the vulva, challenge beauty ideals, and foster conversations about gender, identity, and body image.

Collaborating with the renowned Have A Butchers Gallery and the dynamic team at Hempstead May, Bex Day breathes life into Petal, creating a space where viewers can deeply engage with the art and the powerful messages it conveys. The exhibition, a beacon of creative enlightenment, commenced on the 15th of September and continues its transformative journey until the 6th of October.

Have A Butchers, a woman-led creative gallery and online concept store nestled on Dalston Lane, shares familial ties with Hempstead May. The gallery boasts a distinctive blend of curiosities, art books, and fine art prints, etching its mark in the art world with a playful vision. The gallery frequently collaborates with artists, hosting exhibitions and events that fervently emphasize inclusivity within the creative and LGBTQ+ communities. Hempstead May, a full-scale post-production company, extends its unwavering support to Petal by offering fine-art prints for purchase. As we prepare to dive headfirst into a month of art and events at Have A Butchers, it’s Bex Day who stands at the helm as the creative mastermind behind it all.

Petal is an intensely personal odyssey for Bex Day, a heartfelt homage to her mother and her childhood nickname, ‘petal.’ It isn’t your run-of-the-mill photography collection; it’s a bold statement that endeavours to unite womxn by spotlighting the commonalities of their vulvas, rather than dwelling on superficial distinctions. “The series aims to unify female, non-binary, and female-identifying individuals by showing the similarities of their vaginas rather than focusing on what is considered different,” she declares. Bex Day’s work confronts the internalised traumas and body shame that have long held sway over society. It casts a harsh light on the harmful repercussions of misnaming body parts, the irrational fear surrounding natural body odours, and the awful influence of mainstream media and pornography not just on our perception of our own bodies but also on our relationships with one another.

At the heart of Petal lies its mission to challenge the patriarchal narratives that have long encircled the vulva. profound influence that family can exert on an individual’s sense of self. “My work has always aimed to be socially conscious, and I am drawn to reshaping representation within my work. With Petal, I wanted to show an authentic cross-section of real-life vulvas, not those plucked and pruned for porn performances,” divulges Day. Bex Day’s work serves as a bold departure from the airbrushed and primped portrayals of vulvas that frequently punctuate pornography. Instead, it thrusts an authentic cross-section of real-life vulvas into the spotlight, affording them the recognition they so rarely receive. In this way, Day hopes to unveil the natural beauty of the vulva and obliterate the derogatory stereotypes that have unjustly relegated it to the shadows of sexual organs.

One of the most intriguing facets of Petal lies in its utilisation of flowers or petals to conceal each vulva in the images. “I intentionally allowed the individuals featured to dictate the shape, colour, and size of each petal/flower, serving as a visual representation of their unique perspective on their own vulva,” explains Bex. The chosen flower is intensely personal to each subject, reflecting their personal journey and emotions surrounding their genitalia. This symbolism also delves into the censoring of language, especially during childhood, where individuals are often encouraged to use euphemisms for their body parts—a practice that leads to a lack of understanding and, in some instances, contributes to gender-based violence. 

“Flowers also hold diverse meanings for individuals, often laden with projections and personal connections, and this really intrigued me,” remarks Bex. The connection between flowers and femininity is intriguing, especially considering that biologically, most flowers are hermaphrodites. This association underscores the inclusivity that Petal ardently champions, amplifying the voices of non-binary and transgender communities. Flowers, with their multifaceted meanings, prove to be a perfect choice to deepen our understanding of each subject’s journey with their genitalia.

Moreover, the perceived fragility of flowers mirrors the historical undervaluation of the vagina as a sexual organ. Much like flowers, the vagina is resilient, enduring through all seasons and flourishing in adverse conditions—effectively challenging the notion of its inferiority. “Petal is an ironic title, one that plays on the idea of connotations associated with colloquial terms for the vagina,” says Bex. By reclaiming the term Petal in an ironic manner, she encourages vulva owners to shed the negative perceptions that have been internalised due to societal pressures and oppressive narratives. This project beckons individuals to engage in open conversations about their bodies without fear or shame.

When asked about the influence of Petal she said: “I aspired for Petal to have a similar impact and function as Audre Lorde’s concept of the Erotic as a means of female empowerment rather than mere sexualisation.” By empowering individuals to embrace their eroticism outside the confines of patriarchy, she hopes to enable women to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their strength. The ultimate goal is to break free from oppressive narratives that have endured for decades, restricting women’s understanding of their own bodies and sexuality.

In addition to the arresting images, Petal features deeply personal written accounts from the subjects themselves. “The often extremely personal and anonymous pieces of writing share each subject’s personal journey with their genitalia,” discloses Bex. These narratives provide an intimate and authentic window into everyone’s journey with their genitalia and the profound impact that mainstream media and pornography have had on their self-perception. These written accounts add layers of depth and richness to the images, inviting viewers to perceive each vulva in a multifaceted manner and to connect with the shared internal struggles that have all too often been overlooked in discussions surrounding our bodies. 

Petal transcends being a mere art collection; it stands as a movement that challenges norms, celebrates diversity, and explores the intricate tapestry of perception, identity, and symbolism through the lens of flowers and shared experiences of women. Bex Day holds high hopes for the transformative potential of Petal. She envisions it as a catalyst for altering society’s perceptions of the vulva, beauty ideals, and the broader conversation surrounding gender and identity.

In essence, Bex Day’s Petal is more than just a visual feast—it’s an emotional odyssey that dares to defy convention, laud diversity, and empower individuals to embrace their bodies without reservation or fear. With its powerful symbolism, personal narratives, and a steadfast commitment to authenticity, Petal extends a heartfelt invitation for viewers to engage in profound conversations about body image, language, and the liberating embrace of self-acceptance. As the grand exhibition unfolds at Have A Butchers Gallery and the much-anticipated Petal book takes its inaugural flight, we can only anticipate the positive reverberations these events will have on society’s perceptions and understanding of the vulva, as well as the broader themes that Petal so exquisitely embodies.

Petal by Bex Day is at Have A Butchers Gallery from 15th of September to 6th of October. Check out their website for more information on the solo exhibition and debut launch of Day’s first photographic book.

photography. Bex Day
interview. Kinga Ludwin

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