The artist in front of her painting. Photo: Johanna Jennische/Sveriges Radio

"Vagina painting" deemed "unsuitable" for school

3:33 min

An artist was asked by Nyköping council to come and paint something on a wall in a new school that will open after the summer. What the council had overlooked was that the artist is famous for her pictures of intimate parts of the female body.

When the painting, which features a large vagina, was finished at the end of last week, the council wasn't happy. They sent a letter to the artist, asking her to come back and repaint it. But the artist is refusing.

The artwork has been spray-painted on a 12 square metre wall at the side of some stairs inside the new school in Nyköping. The artist Carolina Falkholt says it is a conceptual work of art.

She considered the age of the pupils who will go to the school - 13-15 year olds - before scribbling common degrading words about women and their bodies on the wall. She then painted over them, with flaming red and orange colours. And on top of that, a feather-like pattern featuring the lower parts of a female body, the angle slightly unclear.

Carolina Falkholt calls the piece "Övermålning" which means "to paint over". However, these days, it is more known as "the vagina painting".

The e-mail she got from the local council read: "Your painting is nice and has beautiful colours. But we are not happy with the object on it. Is it possible for you to come here and repaint it to something more subtle?"

"If is of course completely unacceptable to ask an artist to change her finished work of art! And I don't understand why they even ask an artist if all they want is an inoffensive decoration," says Carolina Falholt, to Swedish Radio P4 Extra.

After the e-mail was leaked to the press, a statement on the council website saying that the painting would be removed was replaced by a message saying no formal decision has yet been made about what they will do with the painting.

But the Social Democrat chairman of the local council's children and youth section, Cajsa Widqvist, told the newspaper Göteborgs-Posten that: "the painting is very nice, but it isn't suitable here. My motto is that the pupils should feel comfortable at school."

But Carolina Falkholt calls this "moral panic". She says she thinks this is about the grown-up's fear of sexuality among young people. And perhaps their fear of sexual assaults and bullying.

"The idea that it would be unsuitable at that age to think about your body and your gender I find that very, very strange. I don't understand it," she says.

The debate has caused Sissela Björk of the Nyköping Youth Council to post a blog-message with the headline: "A vagina on the wall in the new upper secondary school? Yes please!"

She argues that no-one seems to worry about the bare penis on a statue at another secondary school in the municipality and writes "the council's strong opinion against the painting makes me question their view of women and the female body, but also their view of 13-year-olds".

Carolina Falkholt says she hopes that the council in Nyköping will re-consider and keep the picture on the wall, so it is there when school opens after the summer.

And if not, it seems the painting is welcome elsewhere. A gallery in Varberg has been in touch. 

"If Nyköping does not want the painting, we are happy to buy it," says Lars Carlsson, at the gallery Lilla k in Varberg. Together with all youth clubs in Varberg, Carlsson is now offering SEK 40,000 to - as he says - "save this magnificent piece of art".

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