Vulva Pies for the people
words :: Feet Banks
photos/art :: Pies in the Window
When was the last time you took a long hard look at your labia? Or anyone’s?
The answer, for a surprising number of people considering about 50% of us have them, is almost never.
We are living smack dab in the middle of the age of exposure, with experts estimating there are 40 times more bytes of data on the internet than there are stars in the universe (for reference, this article saved as a text file is about 4000 bytes, at the beginning of 2020 the internet held about 4,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes, or 44 zettabytes of information.)
And yet outside of the (admittedly huge) industry of online porn, very few of those bits and bytes of data are dedicated to the one thing that pretty much every single one of us started our lives being pushed out of—the Vagina.
Late in 2020, stuck at home thanks to the COVID pandemic, Oklahoma-based artist Mikel Ibarra decided it was time to make some changes, one pie at a time.
“I am a female artist exploring the paths between empowerment, acceptance, sexuality, and objectification,” reads the artist’s statement of Mikel’s “Pies in the Window.” Her website and Instagram feed showcase the variety and beauty of female genitalia, as channeled through the classic, wholesome desert (and our favourite medium) the pie.
“In Americana, the woman’s place has been ‘in the home,’” Mikel explains, “and the kitchen is the heart of the home. The idea of the nurturing mother feeding her family is as American as apple pie. Then there’s the sex symbol, the vixen, the one you don’t bring home to your apron-wearing mama. She oozes sex and horniness, splayed out on the hood of a car, tongue licking her lips with a come-hither stare. But she’s been saving herself for you. A sweet little tart, she’s our cherry pie.”
As an artist and professional art teacher of 17 years, Mikel has been exploring the role of women though history and culture for decades and reflecting on how the entertainment and fashion industries have long-skewered society’s perception of what a woman is, and what one looks like.
“I was raised by my grandmother who was a 1950s housewife, and my mother was a child of the 60s sexual resolution and wasn’t available to be a mother. And this was the 80s where music [see the Cherry Pie video below] and pop culture were portraying women as a dessert. My mom was cherry pie and my grandmother was apple pie and I was pulled between these two worlds—how do we operate as women? Raised to be good girls but we see naugthy girls getting all the attention. If we are sexual are we automatically cherry pie? Are we whores? Are we looked down upon?
In college I would make really aggressive sexual content pieces to explore these topics. Then once I became a teacher, I put my apple pie apron on. And over the years, even after I stopped teaching, I was thinking of all the illusions I had put on myself as a woman and a teacher and a mother of four in Oklahoma. I was thinking about my art when I was younger and suddenly it just came to me one morning. I knew this was it, in my heart.”
The key to Mikel’s Pies in the Window, is just how different each of the vulva pies appears. There are innies and outies and droopers and splayers, sidewinders and lopsiders, and maybe even something that looks like yours…or one you know. The diversity is the point.
“When I started, I thought I knew the parts of the vulva anatomy,” Mikel says. “I was so wrong. I went online and found a project called Gyno Diversity—just pages and pages of vulvas that women have taken and submitted to this group to see what other peoples’ look like. I had no idea people were so traumatized and upset and ashamed of their vulvas. I just knew I used to get into trouble for looking at my own.”
With a solid grasp of how she wanted to present her “vulva pies,” Mikel drew from years of experience from her second career as a professional baker. With thousands of pies and cakes under her belt, and some sculpting skills from her art teacher years, she pulled out a few trusted recipes and dug in.
“These are mini pies, either 4 or 6 inches,” she says. “I like to make them actual size and coming from a background of fine art I had to make all the ingredients as well. The crusts are from scratch. The modeling takes an hour or so but the way I work is I make a bunch at the same time. I will make a thicker disc of the crust, carve on it, then roll out the edges. Pie crust has to be cold to do this kind of work so I will have 4 sheets of crust that I rotate in and out of the fridge. I always prefer the look of them unbaked. Once you bake it the oven can move things or shrink things or brown them unevenly. It’s worse than pottery, the oven can be your friend or it can screw everything up.”
Beyond the detailed realism, another big part of the Pies in the Window concept is the idea of the Instagram grid as panes in a window. “I knew that would be important to showing them all together,” she says.
This adds elements of voyeurism but also as a nod to the work of American pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, who painted iconic images of pie counters and bakery windows. “I was always drawn to Thiebaud’s art in a weird way,” Mikel says. “He had one of two ladies kneeling side by side that pissed me off, like he was comparing or was a creeper. But that 50s, Mad Men, era of presenting women as desserts or for consumption definitely has an ongoing effect for me that comes through in this project.”
Crafted, carved, baked, and photographed, Mikel’s vulva pies quickly found an audience online. A year after her initial postings she has over 10,000 followers on Instagram.
“For sure, I’ll post a pie and get a lot of eggplant emojis,” she says, “but I also get messages from women saying that looking at my pies is the first time they have even had the thought to look at their own body—that they had always been ashamed. I get messages that are heartbreaking and heartwarming. One women, a dancer and model, told me how I made her feel beautiful by showing a vuvla that looked like hers. Another wrote that she was once a star athlete but one day her vulva started bulging in her suit and she became ashamed because she didn’t see anyone else’s doing that. She quit gymnastics and went into vuvla shame hiding. She learned about vulva diversity because of the pies. We hear so much about penis owners and how there is always a variation there, but no one ever tells women about our own variation of shape and size.”
Pie 26 was a black pie, the first Mikel had posted. “Pie 25 was Latinx but the other pies were all “wheat” coloured and therefor devoid of racial identity, but they banned this Black and beautiful pie less than 20 hours after posting. Then I found studies where people post two identical photos of a white body and a black body in the same bikini and the black body gets removed. It’s hard to deny something wrong is happening there.”
Currently a year into her Pies in the Window journey, Mikel recently created two hand-sculpted cakes in the shape of a woman’s breasts as a new way to examine ideas of consent, body autonomy, and acceptance. The pieces were inspired by another piece of visual art she noticed online, and Mikel says this back and forth, organic inspiration is something young artists should lean into.
“As artists we just have to move in the way we feel inspired and do the art you feel called to do. The fact that it popped into your head means it is important. A think there is a danger with artists where we will self-edit ourselves down to nothing. You don’t have to understand it all at first, just lean into it and do it and let the answers come as they happen. Look at these vulva pies. I don’t know if this is a project, or if this is the rest of my life now….”
A life of pie. And of art, of diversity, femininity, empowerment, education, and celebration. A good life any way you slice it.