Know Your Street Art: Where We All Come From

Like all the characters in Danielle O'Malley's Clarion Alley artwork, this one is whimsical — a rendering from O'Malley's imagination that is Dr. Seussian in its ability to anthropomorphize a familiar thing. But Theodor Geisel never drew a vagina in The Cat in the Hat.

O'Malley's vaginal goddess has a smiling face that, she believes, both exalts the female body part and disassociates it from two extreme cultural phenomena: Sexual exploitation, and (notwithstanding Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues) the pressures that tell women to be embarrassed by their sexual and reproductive organ.

“Typically, women's sexuality is portrayed as victimized and sexualized, but you never have something that gives it power,” says O'Malley, 27, a Detroit native who now lives in Oakland. Her goddess, she says, “is an object that doesn't have a clinical narrative behind it — it's just like a cartoon vagina. I tried to create something that exists on its own, and the gaze of it is looking directly at the person looking at it, and people often find it humorous — so it's a little easier to digest.”

The work is also “a political piece,” O'Malley adds. “I think our view of women's bodies have a lot to do with how we treat other things and other aspects of society — like our connection to nature. Even the way the government behaves can be like this patriarchal father figure, with its forms of punishment — like the prison culture. If we valued these things that we used to value, what would change?”

O'Malley put up “Where We All Come From” in the fall of 2015, and the artwork's other characters include dual-headed trees and long-legged, rabbit-like and pineapple-like creatures. O'Malley, who draws inspiration from the work of Margaret Kilgallen, the great Mission District artist who died tragically in 2001 at age 33, envisions putting her goddess in a published book. For now, her characters reside on the backside of a building in San Francisco's best-known alley of murals, near where Kilgallen also erected her art. Several times recently, O'Malley has had to retouch parts of “Where We All Come From,” during which she's heard people talking about her work.

“I constantly have to fix the mural because people tag it all the time,” says O'Malley, “and I hear people's feedback as they're walking through the alley, and maybe they don't know it's my piece and they think I'm an observer, and they recite the title out loud, and they chuckle at it. It is a simple message of where we all come from. Everything comes from this feminine spirit of birth. It's trying to change the way we view things.” JC

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