The Cliterates, an art collective from Davis, spreads vaginal awareness through public embroidery events
“I feel like my vagina should have more hair,” said Megan Nguyen, a recent UC Davis graduate wearing a sun hat at night. “Celebrate the hair.”
Nguyen was not speaking of her own body part—rather, the cloth she was embroidering with the word “UTERATI” above a uterus. She was one of about a dozen women and one man who had congregated at Bottle & Barlow last Wednesday to stitch hoops for Fembroidery, a participatory project put on by the art advocacy group the Cliterates.
At the end of their cycles, the vaginal awareness artworks will be displayed at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art in Davis from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on October 13 and auctioned off to benefit a local women’s organization.
When I first joined the outdoor picnic table, participants were shy. But after a few happy hour beers and pink cocktails, we had embroidered sassy sayings like “We Grab Back” surrounded by whiskers, a vagina fashioned into an air balloon, and simply “Happy Pussy”—this last one by the lone man. We sang along to Sia and Beyonce on a Bluetooth speaker and clinked glasses to toasts including, “The clit is lit.” When learning how to create a split stitch, an embroiderer shouted, “We should call it a clit stitch!” The group broke out into snickers every few minutes.
Passersby would often do double-takes. “Everyone’s doing something cool tonight,” a woman lamented as she was ushered by her date inside the bar. Another interloper listened to an explanation of the project, and then simply cheered, “Pussy power!” before walking off.
The host of the event, Belinda Huang, is one of the Cliterate’s several local artists organized by UC Davis professor Glenda Drew. In April, they exhibited their vagina-themed embroideries at the Nasty Women Oakland show and auctioned the pieces off for Planned Parenthood. At the bar, Huang’s piece-in-progress showed a red vagina above the word “flora”; the male participant initially thought it said “flow.”
“We chose embroidery as our medium because it’s traditionally domestic,” Huang explained, “but we thought it would be a good idea to reclaim that lost art and embroider something that has a lot of shock value—which it shouldn’t have! The vagina’s a body part.”
I meditated on that thought while stitching vaginal tubes, using minimal gestures to reveal their outlines. The uterus, a triangle; the fallopian tubes, two squiggles bookended by little ovarian circles. Altogether, it looked akin to a fist making a hang-ten symbol, so underneath, I embroidered “tubular.” Now, the vagina seemed as ordinary as a hand.
Meanwhile, I overheard another stitcher say, “Don’t underestimate the power of a good orgasm.”
Huang surveyed the two rows of concentrated faces.
“The sense of community is really beautiful,” she said.