Words by Aliaa El Sherbini
Have you heard of pussy pipes? Nipple Pins? Vagina ashtrays?
Have you ever smoked out of one? Have you ever wore or bought one? Not even ashed in the gash? Do these objects make you feel uncomfortable? Are you embarrassed? Might even think they’re a little silly? Well, the creators of these functional art objects have created them, handmade just for you.
There is no proven evidence on when and who is the original inventor of the ceramic pipes in the shape of the female pleasurable and reproductive body part, however the internet gave Caitlin Rose Sweet and Nico Mazza status of leading pussy pipe creators. Pussy pipes, named like how they look, are in the shapes of vaginas in all their pride, a little messy, differing in colours and shapes. Each artist puts their twist, identity and vision in the molding of their version of the pussy pipe.
Pussy pipes came in with a bang, because of their innovative aesthetic, but more so due to the meanings behind their creation. Artist Nico Mazza told me, “We are in a social climate where women are scrutinized for their bodies, shamed for their sexuality and oppressed by patriarchal institutions. I created these objects in response to that.” Mazza, no stranger to women empowering art projects, created a series of pussy vessels using several colours and several shapes to try and represent women in different curves and forms not just a mold that fits all.
Following Sweet and Mazza’s work footsteps, senior graphic designer at Kingston University Hani was creating innovative ceramic work of her own: Gashtrays. Gashtrays are handmade ashtrays in the form of the female reproductive system. What originated as a joke “ashing into a gash”, as a present to one of Hani’s friends during their foundation year at Leeds University, sprung into a real project. After posting the first Gashtray on Instagram, Hani received commissions for ceramic work from followers and so began to develop the designs and concept.
Although aware of the provocativeness of the project, Hani does not want to be “all in your face” with her designs. “I think Gashtray’s provocativeness works within an eco-chamber. It works around people that are already feminists and find it funny and like that type of things. But for me, it doesn’t work as a persuasive form of activist design in that way.”
[pullquote align=”right”]“We don’t need to make a big deal out of this, it’s just normal, it’s our bodies, it’s beautiful and it’s just fun.”[/pullquote]
With a subtle activist design, the pink ashtrays are prone to criticism—as Pussy Pipes are—like the ones received from her professors who do not seem too fond of her extra-curricular project. They think of it as a “brash” and “intense” object, which are descriptions that Hani accepts lightheartedly. “Maybe their characters are modest enough that they don’t find it funny or comfortable enough, or they rather avoid the subject,” she says. “We don’t need to make a big deal out of this, it’s just normal, it’s our bodies, it’s beautiful and it’s just fun.”
Mazza is also aware and respectful of the fact that some people will be offended by her creations, however, she does not mind being provocative, “I like making people confront themselves through art,” said the artist. “I want the pipes to be engaging- to be talked about, to provoke conversations about sexuality, about body autonomy, about empowerment.”
Hani has been working with second-year product designer at Kingston University Izzi on the gash stash which is the packaging of Gashtrays, and who will be soon collaborating on new production combining Gashtays and Izzi’s TastyNips.
TastyNips is an imagine archive of everything nipple that Izzi finds while wandering around life, which includes Hani’s handmade nipple pins. “I do intent for TastyNips to be provocative but I don’t want to offend, just to get people questioning the status quo,” Izzi says. “I think though approaching it as something light hearted it becomes a more powerful tool to get people thinking those important feminist thoughts about equality.”
After Instagram had taken down one of her images for having a shadow of a nipple visible in it—yes only a shadow—Izzi created TastyNips. It’s basically both a fun game of spot and appreciate the nipples, and a way to bring normalcy to female bodies because “our society tells us a lot of weird stuff about our bodies as girls growing in to women and we often have warped senses of what normal can be,” says Izzi.
The project will soon be transformed into a line of nipple tassels and edible themed goodies. “It is a bit silly, but I think that Feminism has been given bad stigma on being so serious and a ‘kill joy’ by so many young men and women,” Izzi explains about the reason behind her project.
Undoubtedly, a topic containing pink, breasts and vaginas will include the notion of feminism you’d think for the simple reason that they are all things related to females. And this form of art does touch upon female rights, but not just because of said reasons.
Caitlin Rose and Mazza both expressed how feminism take many forms, with no form fits all except the premise, which stays about fighting for equality and these creations are one of the forms of feminist art. However, “by visually associating, nipples, breasts and pussies to feminism, we are isolating entire groups of women identifying individuals and creating a visual catalog that needs to be revised and expanded,” expressed Mazza.
Not every person who has a vagina identifies and female and not every person who identifies as a woman has a vagina or breasts, therefore “this design is not representative of all women,” said Mazza, and which Hani agrees about her work as well. This is why not only women are fighting for this equality but also transgendered and non-binary people, which all these artists are aware of and trying to highlight in their ideas. They serve as a reminder of how special and different our bodies are.
“The end goal is about putting “this thing” (the vagina) that has been so stigmatized out into the open for everybody to see on a daily basis,” Hani told me. “It’s like taking the weight all the way behind it and basically normalising it.”
The need to re-normalise certain bodies is because we haven’t really ever felt the normalcy of our bodies to begin with as females Mazza explained, “Our bodies throughout history have been consumed, objectified and oppressed by patriarchal institutions of government, religion, family ideals, gender roles sexuality and the list goes on.” By designing and creating such vessels, the artists hope to give alternatives to traditional art forms that might have at times favored heteronormative and masculine based ways of doing.
What all of these functional art objects have in common—besides most of them representing the vagina—is that they all want to normalize the human body, give power to women’s bodies and sexuality in a funny, endearing, innovative and a little provocative way. As Izzy says, “My theory is get in there with the laughs and then slowly but surely the ideologies sneak on in there.”
Gashtrays, nipple pins, pussy pipes all protest something, give freedom to a certain part of a body even if just in a small scale, and they have an edge to them that not everyone will understand or appreciate, but they are all conversation starters and that is their biggest power. “I think it takes away the fear of bringing up the topic. I see these objects as conversation starters. The more people have them the more conversations are started and the more people will hopefully become curious and confident to do more,” says Izzy.”
“I think they serve as a reminder that our bodies and the pleasure they experience are not to be shamed or censored,” commented Mazza.
They sure are provocative; however, “you can feel how you want to fell about them. I don’t want it to be one of those things that I am ramming down someone’s throat, I just want it to be discreetly in the corner laughing at you. It’s like subtle protest,” expressed Hani.
Caitlin Rose Sweet and her creations celebrate radical queerness and feminism.
Caitlin Rose Sweet, artist and creator based in Brooklyn New York City is Queer and proud. She plays around with craft, space and shapes to express her desires in the form of functional and expressive art.
When did you start creating functional art objects? I have been working with ceramics on and off for 20 years, ceramics have been my main material/process for the last 5 years and for the last 3 years ceramics have been my 24/7 and I have been making functional ware for a living. When I first started working with clay I was really resistant to making functional objects, I found it too traditional and limiting. Now I am really invested in unpacking what it means to be functional and exploring how to make functional art objects to support and celebrate queer bodies.
How would you describe your work? The work is focused on creating fun feminist body/sex positive space and objects that reflect and celebrate radical queerness. This could be an immersive installation with ceramics, textiles, performers and video, surreal feminine sculptures, and functional domestic objects. I spend most of my time making body positive high femme smoking vessels aka pussy pipes.
Do you consider yourself the first pussy pipe creator? When did you start creating them? I am not the first or only pussy pipe maker, I feel proud to be a part of a community of feminist makers who are using their craft to reclaim, redefine and celebrate pussy. Ceramics is one of human’s earliest technology and folks have been smoking cannabis/medicinal plants forever. I am just a part of that long tradition.
I know that the idea of pussy pipes sprung from a funny idea and a present to a friend, then how did it develop to what it is now? It wasn’t so much as a joke but a moment of love and appreciation for our friend and her amazing labia. I mean it was funny and she loved it. In fact she still has her original pussy pipe. I never meant to become a brand on social media, but I feel really lucky that my work has been shared and supported online. Somehow I never saw it coming, but there is a need for pussy pipes in the world!!
Do you think us, as females need such objects to claim back the normalcy of our bodies? To be clear not all women have pussies and not everyone with a pussy is a woman. I am interested the idea of being cunty as a place of radical feminine resistance and bad attitude that isn’t about being female. But there is no denying we are still living in the patriarchy and the patriarchy hates women, femininity, pussies of all forms and genders so yes we still need to protect ourselves and make art that values are bodies and sexuality.
What inspires your work? I pull inspiration from a diverse amount of sources, craft history, cartoons, feminist art, and mostly my lived experiences within the glistening queer worlds that I exist in. I am always moved by the way queer folks survive, thrive, and shine in a world that is so hostile and bleak. And how we form networks of support, care, comfort, and intimacy to navigate heteronormativity is truly inspirational and healing.
Some people might find your work too provocative or too “out there”, what would you say about that? The artist role is to provoke, to fuck with the boundaries and to pull back the curtains on the bullshit. I live in the “out there” because what is the “in there” is a culture of homophobia, racism, ableism, toxic masculinity, and oppression.
Do you intend to be provocative? Is being provocative in art considered a bad thing? Pussy isn’t provocative to me, it doesn’t shock me, it is just a part of my body. A complex part of my body. I am not looking for a shock value; I am challenging the crushing divide between public and private. Folks who really love the pussy pipes tell me how soothing and exciting it is to them.
Do you perceive your work as empowering to the LGBTQ community? If so, then in what ways? I do see my work as empowering to queer folks, but the LGBTQ community is so diverse and multidimensional that it’s impossible to make something that speaks to and uplifts everyone. Clearly as a white cis queer woman I have my own mixture of privilege and oppression, and my work speaks strongest to certain parts of the queer community. But the more queer artists are creating work that speaks about and to queerness the better.
Do you have a specific project that you’ve created that reflects your identity as a queer women the most? Last fall I presented a series of vessels called Uncontainable, these forms were informed by the cultural and historical representation of feminine bodies as empty vessels to be filled by masculinity. So I made these hyper feminine complicated vessels that were designed to leak, squirt, and receive fluids in unexpected ways. A group of performers activated the vessels by sharing water back and forth as a metaphor of feminine labor and how sexual pleasure creates a network of bonds between bodies. It was messy, wet, and beautiful.
What is the next step in Caitlin Rose’s world of creations? The next step is bridging the gap between my more conceptual installations and the smoking vessels, I am in the beginning stages of conceiving an installation that has performers using the smoking vessels and create an psychedelic video highlighting the importance of body autonomy, pleasure, chilling out, and restorative times with your babes. I am working on a line of more trans inclusive vessels; I collaborated with my friend Emma to design the Hard Femme bubbler to celebrate femme cock. Emma recently passed and I am donating her half of the profit to the https://www.translifeline.org/microgrants/ she was studying to be a nurse and this micro grant helps transsexual folk attend educational programs in medical field.