The set may be plain—a table and chair set against a solid black background—but the scene is arranged this way for a reason. A powerful study rooted in sexuality and cloaked in visual art is about to take place, turning millions of people across the globe into voyeurs. The clinical mood of the video is intentional, in order to remove anything associated with luridness or pornography. The feel is abstract while “remaining traditionally photogenic” thanks to the austere black and white finish. Welcome to Hysterical Literature.
Presented as a variation on the video series Long Portraits (which explored distraction and fatigue in portrait sitters), Hysterical Literature is a study that “explores feminism, mind/body dualism, distraction portraiture and the contrast between culture and sexuality.” This study is the brainchild of NYC-based photographer Clayton Cubitt, an artist known for mixing fashion and art with technology. For Hysterical Literature, all of his subjects are female filmmakers and artists of some kind, each sharing the same desire as the next: to test societal ideals about female sexuality.
They are orgasming for the camera.
Solé, a beautiful African-American writer, decided to sit for the project against the known judgments of family and friends concerned about the negative backlash this display of sexual expression could have on her image. She’s personally inspired by the prose of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, reciting a passage while waiting on the moment of complete vulnerability about to overtake her body and mind.
Yes, each subject sits solo at a table reading literature symbolic to her life’s journey. But what we don’t see is a hidden assistant under the table operating a Hitachi Magic Wand vibrator. The stimulation of the clitoris during such a display of self-expression challenges the women to focus on her solo conversations with self.
Yet their eventual moments of orgasmic ecstasy present all of us quietly observing this intimate affair with mixed emotions about what’s being shown. Is it okay to watch a woman engage in sexual pleasure? Is this type of display proper at all? Thoughts questioning decency are often raised in the minds of the viewer, presenting the challenge of questioning society’s concepts of shame in relationship to female sexuality.
Solé (like any everyday woman) had concerns about unveiling such a sacred moment against the societal standard of keeping female sexual expression hidden. But she says she utilized this public display of her own personal revolution to “reclaim her sexuality and the parts of her that society continues to negate.”
Clayton Cubitt elects us all to become “peeping Toms” as a way to explore the shame and confusion that’s enveloped female pleasure for centuries. This artistic exploration is refined voyeurism at its best. And while it challenges the modern world to disassociate humiliation from female sexuality, it also provides an alternative look at how a version of voyeurism can be used to usher in female sexual liberation.
So many women are dissatisfied in their regular sexual experiences, with over 70 percent of women having difficulty reaching orgasm regularly. This “inability to orgasm” is often labeled as a dysfunction, causing many women to believe their sexual equipment is broken. But more often, the lack of orgasm originates from a woman’s disconnection with her own sexuality and sexual anatomy.
Women are not outwardly encouraged by society to take claim of their sexuality. Voyeurism is the act of spying on someone while the subject engages in an intimate behavior within a private setting. Often the subject is unaware of being observed, and the act is accompanied by the secret creation of a video or photograph. But through the use of controlled voyeurism, women can restore their sexual expression and become comfortable with maintaining control over their sexual pleasure.
By using a mirror, camera phone or tripod and camera setup during the self-pleasuring process (commonly known as masturbation), women can use the principle of voyeurism to remedy the mental blockages often inflicted by the acceptance of cultural shame placed on female pleasure. Numbers of women have left their sacred regions unexplored by their own hands, and many more have never taken a look at what’s contained between their legs.
By photographing or filming these intimate moments for her eyes only, the modern-day woman can learn how to embrace the appearance and feel of her body during the arousal stage, and become aware of how to obtain control of her natural birthright to amazing sexual experiences. Whether using a vibrator or keeping the act simple with the use of fingers, self-exploration in conjunction with self-imposed voyeurism can serve as a spark to inspire sexual liberation.
Solé, actress/comedian Margaret Cho, and seven other women (so far) have boldly stepped forward to show millions across the world that it’s okay for women to claim their sexual pleasure. And thanks to Clayton Cubitt’s challenge against displays of female pleasure once medically diagnosed as “female hysteria,” the voyeur in all of us has been taught the beauty of the female orgasm and the natural expression of sexual energy.
The Hysterical Literature collection can be viewed at HystericalLiterature.com. Read Solé’s manifesto here.
Glamazon Tyomi is a freelance writer, model and sex educator with a deeply rooted passion for spreading the message of sex positivity and encouraging the masses to embrace their sexuality. Her website, www.glamerotica101.com, reaches internationally as a source for advice and information for the sexually active/curious. Follow her on Twitter at @glamazontyomi.