I made Vag Dens when I was a young artist, only a few years out of art school. It is one of a pair of paintings with sexual themes which arose out of a desire to represent male and female sexuality through images. I woke up one morning with the images in my head, and felt it imperative that I make these paintings.
I was very interested in the Surrealists and Dadaists; their emphasis on dreams, the unconscious and sexuality was very powerful for me. There was a fair amount of tension about sexual matters at the time, especially for young people growing up. In the arts and literature and amongst those who were concerned for personal and civil freedoms, censorship was a major issue.
The name Vag Dens did not occur to me until after the painting was finished. A friend who was a psychologist told me that the image of the toothed vagina appeared in many cultures over many centuries; it was called Vagina Dentata. I was amazed, I had no knowledge of this.
The teeth had not been in my mind at all, initially. When they occurred I resisted as it seemed too strong an image. They continued to insist in my mind as I struggled to bring the painting to a conclusion. Eventually I thought, ‘what the heck’, and put the teeth in. To my surprise the whole thing came together and was done.
I’ve often puzzled over the teeth. It’s never simply been an image of castration to me, I think of it as a symbol of legitimate power. Just as the beautiful rose with its sweet smell has thorns and the tigress has teeth which can both rip animals apart and gently carry her cubs, so this imaginary form represents the power of the feminine.
Vivienne Binns 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002