Our heroic, good-for-nothing artist sets out to make small anthropomorphized figurines of vaginas, wondering why people find them so scary. Unfortunately, she finds this to be much more difficult a task than she originally imagined. Thus begins her impossibly cute yet deeply profound saga through gender and societal norms, as she finds herself in and out of jail for the strange and opaque charge of "obscenity." Going up against the powerful men and structures that surround her with a humor and wit that inspires, Rokundenashiko soundly demonstrates that it's society, not her, that needs to pull its act together. Recommended By Cosima C., Powells.com
A completely captivating story of groundbreaking feminist artist Rokudenashiko's arrest and imprisonment told through comics, interviews, press snippets, trial transcripts, and mini cultural essays. What makes this book so remarkable is her unfailing whimsy, a spirit so bright it radiates off the page, and ultimately her resilience in the fight for artistic freedom. Recommended By Melissa A., Powells.com
As soon as I finished reading this graphic novel, I wanted to talk to everyone I know about it. Not only did I learn while reading this, I laughed at the same time. The tone with which the author narrates and illustrates her arrest highlights the bizarreness of the situation. This, in turn, sets up the story of her time in prison and her second arrest, showcasing the oddness of Japanese obscenity laws. I was impressed by the author's ability to have a cute, hilarious approach to her autobiographical graphic novel while also grappling with intense philosophical questions. Some questions she asks of her readers are: "How should, or can, obscenity be defined?" and "Who does a woman's body belong to?" What Is Obscenity is also a pleasure to read because of the extra content slipped between the narrative, such as an interview the author conducted with another artist and photos of the prison she was held in. Recommended By Junix S., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A graphic memoir of a good-for-nothing Japanese artist who has been jailed twice for so-called acts of obscenity and the distribution of pornographic materials yet continues to champion the art of pussy. In a society where one can be censored, pixelated and punished, Rokudenashiko asks what makes pussy so problematic?
Edited by Anne Ishii and Graham Kolbeins and translated by Ishii, a writer, translator and proprietor of the gay manga paraphernalia brand MASSIVE, and with a cover by Chip Kidd, arguably the most well-known and influential designer of the past two decades. This is an incredible package for an incredible story.
"This book is a manga essay written from the epicenter of the controversy, by the artist Rokudenashiko and in a full-frontal tone the artist asks the world, 'what is obscenity?' This book is crucial to understanding who exactly Rokudenashiko is, before getting consumed in arguing for the sake of arguing about her so-called crimes." Bijutsu Techo, Art Handbook
"Though her time in jail is short, her uncertainly about how to navigate the arbitrary rules of the guards which cover everything from the way chopsticks are returned in a bento box to the manner in which a package is torn make for a fascinating addition to prison literature." Michael Melgaard, The Millions
"What Is Obscenity? is a must-read piece of comics activism, telling the disturbing true story of a female artist punished by her country for celebrating a natural part of being a woman." Oliver Sava, A.V. Club
"In the beautifully-illustrated memoir, which is anything but crude, Igarashi recalls growing up in a country where the penis is celebrated, but to even say the word vagina, or "manko," is considered obscene." Sarah Cascone, artnet news
"At times horrifying, outrageous and inspiring, the artist finds strength and power in the most adorable forms, and never stops smiling at the serious, small men determined to take her down." Priscilla Frank, The Huffington Post
About the Author
Rokudenashiko ("good-for-nothing girl" or "bad girl") is a Japanese sculptor and mangaka. She is known for her series of decorated vulva moulds, or Deco-Man, a portmanteau of "decorated" and "manko," which is Japanese slang for vagina. The moulds have taken the shape of dioramas, kawaii characters and a kayak based on a 3D scan of her genitalia, which she dubbed the "pussy boat." The scan led to her arrest in 2014 for alleged violation of Japanese obscenity laws.