“The conversation is just as important as the art itself”

BY MARTINE HESS

VadgeBadges are beautiful, bold, vibrant, and unique, much like the actual vulva. But according to leading platforms, they have no place on social media, with some allegedly barring the creator from advertising her work. 

Mirror earrings in vivid colours, ruffled pillows and hand-painted badges adorned with Swarovski clit details. VadgeBadges is an independent business based in East Lothian, Scotland, that makes art in the celebration of the vulva in all its forms. The abstract and colourful replication of genitalia is meant to encourage women to feel confident and comfortable in their skin, despite society telling them otherwise. 

This is what the creator and artist behind the brand, Nem Sarton, also known as Nematode, attempted to promote when she was barred from advertising on two leading platforms. In January 2020, she joined two other artists to create a giveaway of their work but was not allowed to promote the competition. Unsure of the reason for this, she appealed. 

Nem was told that VadgeBadges did not comply with the platform’s guidelines because it depicts “sexual content” and “nudity”. With the rejection of her appeal came a list of examples to help make sense of the regulations. Nem was quick to notice that all the prohibited content was photos of women. The reason for banning them was that they were deemed to be in “a sexually suggestive pose” or showing “excessive visible skin or cleavage”. In terms of what was considered as compliant, Michelangelo’s David statue was used as the example, yet an art photo of a nude woman was used as an example of non-compliance because of “artistic implied nudity”.

“I was shocked, horrified, and gutted,” said Nem. “Because this is carved in stone and is male genitalia it is fine, but a painted, abstract vulva is not?”

Nem says she was deeply disappointed by the blatant double standard around nudity that she had become a victim of. She pointed out that there is a stigma attached to women being confident in their bodies and that platforms like Facebook make it very difficult for those to be erased. Their “sexist” guidelines shape the way women feel about themselves, and the way men see women. “That right there is sending a clear message that images of women are seen as sexually explicit or that their bodies are seen as pornographic. Just because a woman is showing some cleavage, that is seen as sexually suggestive, and yet a penis and balls aren’t?”

As an independent artist, Nematode relies on promoting herself on social media to spread the message to new audiences, but if she appeals the decision again, she risks being permanently banned. Still, she is determined to fight back. Since the rejection of her first appeal, she has started to reach out directly to her followers, as well as people who can provide a platform to speak out and raise awareness about “how biased this system is”. 

Nematode has a Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree in Art Psychotherapy, and she emphasised the importance of art that questions systems, shakes things up, and sparks dialogues. “The conversation is just as important as the artwork itself,” she said. “Knowing that my work provokes quite strong reactions is rewarding in a strange way.”

The artist is confident that her work is worth fighting for, stating that it is meant to be both an expression of pride and celebration. “If someone was to wear a VadgeBadge on their clothing, I would hope that they are saying ‘I am proud of my body, no matter what colour and shape it is. I respect it and it’s amazing’.” 

Nematode modelling a pair of her unique earrings

VadgeBadges are not only a boundary-pushing statement in itself, but a percentage of the profits is donated to MRKH Connect, a charity supporting people born with an absent or shortened vagina, a condition known as MRKH.

“The meaning and cultural statement VadgeBadges make has become more and more poignant. It feels now that I am on a path with it. I can now start to help people and educate with my work,” Nematode told DIVA. Finally, she made one thing clear, “I am not giving up and I will continue to create my work until I am in my grave!”

@martineahess

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