— ろくでなし子 (@6d745) October 27, 2013
Last year, Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi rowed across Tokyo’s Tama River in a kayak created from a 3-D print of her own vagina. The purpose of her project, CBC News reported, was to confront the county’s taboos regarding the female form.
But once she started distributing data that would allow others to print her genitalia in the same way, Tokyo police said no, claiming she was violating Japanese obscenity laws.
The 42-year-old artist, who works under the pseudonym Rokudenashiko, meaning “good-for-nothing girl,” was arrested this week after e-mailing the data to some 30 people who responded to a crowd-funding campaign to finance her kayak, the Guardian reported.
Igarashi denied the allegations, claiming she did not recognize the data as obscene. And since her arrest, some 19,000 people have signed a petition in support of her release.
“Did she cause trouble to anybody? It’s not like she showed [something obscene] at a public place where many, including those who don’t want to, could have seen it,” Masanori Takano, a Tokyo-based programmer who started the petition on Monday, told the Japan Times. “I believe her work is art and not an obscene object.”
A police spokesman told Agence France-Presse on Tuesday that Igarashi was arrested for “distributing data that could create an obscene shape through a 3D printer.”
Some commentators have called the arrest hypocrisy, pointing out Japanese authorities recently resisted pressure to ban pornographic images of children in manga comics and animated films, the Guardian reported. Activist Minori Kitahara told the Japan Times that “Japan is still a society where those who try to express women’s sexuality are suppressed while men’s sexuality is overly tolerated.”
And after Igarashi’s arrest, local media reported social media platforms like Twitter were flooded with comments.
Igarashi made a name for herself with “decorated vagina” sculptures including female-genitalia-inspired jewelry, cellphone cases, toys and dioramas. She has said she wants to “demystify” female genitalia in Japan.
Japanese obscenity laws do not permit the display either of male or female genitals, which are blurred in broadcast media and images.
Whether her work is art or not, Igarashi, if convicted, could face up to two years in prison or a fine of as much as 2.5 million yen, or $24,500, her attorney told news outlets.