Take 70s porn, let it collide with 1950s comics, add a dash of cartoon humor and dirty lines and you’ve got something called Heather Benjamin. Well, that’s almost right. To look at a work of Heather Benjamin is almost like looking at your own vagina in the mirror. It’s both breathtaking and strange, it reminds you of both sex and death, baby animals and all things floral. You see, when we talk about erotic art, it’s much more than just tits and ass, it’s the egg that waited for the sperm, the creation of life, the unfolding, the folding of body parts, like labia, and the covering up of the male gaze with a few glorious petals. Get a whiff of that, guys. Feminist erotica speaks to the masses and it says all things coming from the female body is gold, golden, will be turned to gold; all things that touch the female body become transformed, a liquefying phase like caterpillar to butterfly, like zygote to fetus. Erotica is more about the gift of the vagina, what we do with it, how we praise it and it’s less about fetishizing the vagina in ways that fail to honor it.
Although Benjamin has been cited as saying that her work is strictly personal, inspired by her own personal sexual voyage, she is thrilled when her audience can identify with her characters. Each piece is an autobiographical clip of her, of an experience, of her perception of herself as she rests and thrusts against this world. And when scrolling through, no doubt, there’s a piece that speaks to even the most prude for in Benjamin’s work is a vulnerability that all females can identify with on some level. Benjamin seems to dig a hole into our psyches and pull out that which we dare not speak, that which we bury deep inside like a danger in a broken heart or any other phallic symbol demonstration inserted here.
While she has been censored several times, that doesn’t keep her from producing work. She is a determined erotic stylist who risks nothing by exposing her own body as she sees fit. What she is not doing is representing other female’s bodies, which is the misconception of some viewers. As a result, she finds the censorship lewder than her lewdest piece. Her work dissects her own body, no one else’s, however gallery rejection and censorship speak on behalf of how society treats women’s bodies in general. As though erotic comes in only one package, or nudity in only one form. They are dismissing her freedom of expression, her private world of erotica and that seems to go against all that art stands for. The art world needs to loosen its hold on the female body, give permission to explore and express, and embrace a world of erotica that is as personal as a fingerprint or a vagina mold. Nothing to demystify here, just Benjamin eroticizing her own body –nothing more, nothing less. It’s her right as a female on this planet. She’s giving praise to Pluto, people. That erotic planet that has us digging deeper and deeper.
Benjamin only desires to delve into that which is hers: her body, her T&A, her sexuality. She is not trying to speak of the woman in general. She goes into her erotic abyss, then drips out on the page without abandon. Certainly, there’s a voyeuristic feel; and admit it, you like it, don’t you.
All the criticism hasn’t stopped Benjamin in the slightest. If anything, it’s a catalyst for her work and a flame that ignites a new brand of erotica inside her heart. She has a huge cult following and with good reason. Whether studying a drawing, comic, or cartoon, the work is thrilling. It entertains and if that’s not what erotica is about, then somebody correct me. The excitement lies in the taboo, in the naughty, in the dirty talk –that and so much more has been incorporated into Benjamin’s art. Yes, it’s erotic, but it’s also like going home because for every single human, the vagina is the door to our first home –the womb.
Benjamin isn’t trying to be fearless or brave. She’s doing what comes natural to her. She’s making her own version of self and adding sexually explicit layers because she can. And she does it well. Boy oh boy does she ever do it well. You can’t take your eyes away, can you? You dirty little human spirit *wink*.
WORDS BY: Jacklyn Janeksela