Japanese police arrested artist Megumi Igarashi in Tokyo yesterday. Her alleged crime was sharing the data necessary to 3D print a model of her own vagina. According to the charges against her, that represents unlawful electronic distribution of obscene material, and could result in a fine and up to two years in prison.
Igarishi, who is 42 years old and works under the name Rokudenashiko, has created many models of her vagina in the past, in attempts to fight just this sort of taboo. She has made tree-dotted dioramas, brightly colored cartoons, anatomically correct iPhone covers, jaunty bracelet charms, and even a crowd-funded vagina-shaped kayak (which, truth told, looks a lot like a regular kayak).
None of these lighthearted objects carry pornographic undertones, and that’s part of Igarishi’s message. In a (mostly safe-for-work) video, she explains her desire to diffuse the tension and taboo surrounding the female anatomy. “I don’t want them to get angry when I say ‘vagina,’” she says. “By doing this [artwork], I say that they should not take it that serious.” But apparently, the Japanese authorities are still taking it seriously. (The overhead penis statues and lollipops that abound at Kawasaki’s Kanamara Matsuri festival are okay though.)
Beyond demonstrating a double-standard that’s not exclusive to Japan, the case presents an interesting wrinkle in the rules surrounding sexual content and 3D printing. Now that sources like the Berlin-based Dildo Generator allow users to design a phallic model from anywhere and the New York Toy Collective lets users scan their own penises to print models (which is pretty much what Igarishi sought to do with her vagina), how will such companies—and their users—be regulated? For the moment, it seems the Japanese police have taken it upon themselves.
“I do not acknowledge that (the work) is an obscenity,” Igarishi reportedly said in response to the charges. A petition at Change.org awaits her supporters.