A Photographic Book and Exhibition by Joel Philip Belmont confronting FGM (female genital mutilation)
practices and challenging the way a woman's labia is perceived in modern society.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
~Martin Luther King Jr.
It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time someone stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, they send forth a tiny ripple of hope.
~Robert Francis Kennedy
Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.
~Holocaust Museum, Washington, DC
The project has been in progress since spring 2008. The book is currently in early phases of production, and will be released in 2013, with half of all proceeds being donated to a Non-Governmental Organization that is working to help eradicate Female Genital Mutilation in African villages through education.
Joel Belmont, photographer and founder of The Labia Project writes "One hope I have with the project is that people will not see this integral part of a woman as dirty or sexual, but simply as beautiful. In many cultures, a woman's labia is perceived as an unsanitary and unsightly body part that contains a woman's sexual desire. More than 3 million girls between 5 and 8 years old undergo female circumcision each year, largely in African and some Islamic cultures. Why? It's a complex answer, but a predominant reason is because males in these cultures decided that if they circumcised women it would literally 'cut out' their sexual desire, and the women would be more faithful to their husbands. In these cultures, a woman who is not circumcised is considered a social outcast. Practices of FGM are often done against the person's will (they are held to the ground by several people), it is performed with crude and unsanititary equipment, and often result in infections, painful complications, challenges for childbirth and normal intercourse, and can even result in death.
It is my hope that this book will help challenge this cultural practice, and implore the people involved with it to consider more humane rites of passage for young girls and women. It is not my intent, however, to encourage judgment or angst towards a group of people or their belief system. I believe change comes through positive efforts, not negative focus.
I hope to raise awareness about this issue, and help connect people that would like to contribute to organizations that are there making a difference. If this project helps even one person, it has served a tangible purpose.
It is also my hope to present these images so detached from sexuality that the people who view a woman's labia as something purely sexual also challenge their own notions--that something that is often seen as perverse and only shows up in pornographic material, can be, of itself, pure and elegant in line and form.
Also, it can be a challenge for a woman to see this part of her own body as beautiful, resulting in issues of self-confidence, so it is yet another hope that women can see this series, and come to terms with their own beauty.
And, since most everyone that has ever lived has passed through one to come into life, it holds an additional significance as the human portal of life, though it is not my intent to put this, or anything material on a pedestal, but rather to elude to qualities that are lasting and spiritual.
It is my intent to challenge people with this project, though not to cause disgust or shock, but rather to cause an appreciation based on life, elegance, and the beauty of the artistic way in which we are created."
Praise for The Labia Project
"It takes guts and a certain sensitivity to approach a subject like this, and I admire what you’re doing."
~Maria, San Francisco, CA
"It’s a hard project, hard in many ways because many women have the sense that there is something inherently wrong with this part of their body….they struggle with this idea that their body does not “fit in” with what it is “supposed to be” as dictated by a set of social norms too complex for the average woman to articulate…too long, too small, too big, too thin--the list of “toos” is as endless as the number of women who have been brave enough to confront this project head on.
Joel Belmont understands this about his models. He simply does not feed into that language, does not use it, and works to convey to each model that this most intimate of parts is not only acceptable, but beautiful it its own, un-comparative right. There is no “look” he is looking for; instead it is the uniqueness of the woman that makes her valuable, even necessary to this representational project.
While The Labia Project is one of extreme focus--only 2 to 4 square inches--it is perhaps one of the purest expressions of individuality; one that sets aside issues of race, class, occupation, age, religion, politics, relational status, sexual orientation, financial status, and core beliefs. The Labia Project exposes the universal truth of uniqueness while fostering a sense of oneness through distinguished and cherished commonality.
To work with Joel Belmont is to touch the surface of changing attitudes toward self and society. It is personal, and yet it is one small step toward making universal the acceptance of womanhood for what it is. There is no paint, no garnish, no dressing, no pills, powders, potions or tonics. He is seeking to allow women to simply exist…to cherish themselves as a part of the human race, to accept their difference, and to allow others to marvel in the possibility of human acceptance."
~Stephanie, Denver, CO
"I found your work to be stunning and moving. I think The Labia Project is one of the most profoundly simple yet meaningful projects I've heard of."
~L. Jadex, Ontario, CA
"[The Labia Project] is amazing and empowering. I have been a sponsor for Women for Women Int'l for five years to combat exactly what your photography project addresses, female genital mutilation (in addition to the many other atrocities women face in war torn nations). Thank you so much for helping women to see the beauty within their labia, despite the negative things we may have been taught about our sexuality in youth and in our nations!"
~Natalee, San Francisco, CA
"I appreciate your efforts to de-stigmatize and reveal the beauty of this much-maligned body part, and I'd like to contribute to the body of work."
~Monika Thomas, Radio Host, San Francisco, CA
Copyright 2008-2012 Joel Belmont Photography