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The Weird and Wonderful World of Museums

Standing proudly in Reykjavik, the Icelandic Phallological Museum is thought to be the first and only one in the world dedicated to penises. The museum was founded by Sigurður Hjartarson who’d been fascinated with phallology (the study of penises) since being gifted a pizzle (bull’s penis), commonly used as a whip for farm animals, as a child. In 1974, Hjartarson started collecting whale penises and by 1990 had a large enough collection to establish the museum. The museum received its first human donation in 2011. Nearly 300 jars and display cases contain mammalian male-parts that range from a two-millimetre hamster winkle to the two-metre tip of a blue whale’s five-metre member. Other specimens include those of elephants and walruses, as well as some unusual phallic art.  

 

So, how fitting in this #MeToo era the proposal to build the world’s first “bricks and mortar museum dedicated to vaginas, vulvas and the gynaecological anatomy”. In fact, it was the discovery of Iceland’s all-male-member museum that compelled Vagina Museum founder, Florence Schechter, to act. Still a work in progress, Schechter hopes to eventually open the museum in London and for now is organising pop-up Vagina Museum and fundraising events around the UK. 

 

Though there is sizeable element of fun around the idea (when it was announced, Twitter users chirped in with advice such as to install a knocker on the door as “no man will find the buzzer”, along with a sign that warns “slippery when wet”), Schechter, a comedian and science YouTuber, wants the museum to “educate, empower and entertain”, while erasing the stigma and shame surrounding gynaecological anatomy. And it appears well overdue, too.

 

 

“Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines.” 

Jerry Saltz

 

 

According to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), there was a 500 percent increase in labiaplasties on the NHS between 2002-2012, many because of “unrealistically narrow representations of vulval appearance in popular culture”. Other studies reveal two-thirds of 16-25-year-olds have an issue with using the word ‘vulva’ or ‘vagina’, and even more actually avoid visiting a doctor about gynaecological problems due to embarrassment. Half of men are uncomfortable discussing such issues with their female partner and consider vagina “shrouded in mystery”, while nearly half of UK girls aged 14-21 are still embarrassed by their periods.

 

A further aim of the museum will be to serve as a “forum for feminism, women’s rights, the LGBT+ community and the intersex community”. Another study found that nearly half of trans people under the age of 26 had attempted suicide, while two in five trans people had been the victims of hate crimes or incidents owing to their gender identity in the previous 12 months. 

 

Schechter hopes visitors, whatever their gender identity, will leave the museum “feeling more confident and proud”. She’s now known as the “vagina lady” and admits that getting the museum running has become “her whole life”.

 

Until then, Verve brings you some furtherer offbeat museum offerings from around the world…

 

Museum of Bad Art, USA

You’ll need multiple visits to witness all the pieces here. Boston’s amusingly straight-to-the-point Museum of Bad Art’s collection is around 700 pieces strong, but only around a tenth are displayed at any given time. The only museum in the world dedicated to the “collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration” of art that is simply “too bad to be ignored”, the volunteer-run establishment, which opened in 1994, houses works with names just as amusing as the artists’ efforts (such as ‘The Mana Lisa’). The piece that started it all, ‘Lucy in the Field with Flowers’, sees a purple-rinsed pensioner dancing among some daisies. The curators are wise to cynical efforts to try to make the collection and only accept pieces that were “an earnest attempt to make an artistic statement”. 

 

Orange Coloured Sky, Anonymous (2014).

 

 

Musee Fragonard, France

The antithesis of the typical Parisian cultural collection, the Musee Fragonard is filled with human and animal anatomical displays that, some may consider to, at times, push the boundaries of taste and decency. Much of the compelling collection comes courtesy of 18th century French medical schools when study aids were often forged from real body parts preserved in formaldehyde. Expect to see the likes of a human head whose blood vessels have been injected with coloured wax or a flayed man perched atop a flayed horse in mid-gallop, inspired by the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ painting by Albrecht Durer. 

 

Detail of an écorché (with mummification) of a horse and its rider, Honoré Fragonard (1766-1771).

 

 

Meguro Parasitol, Japan

You’ll likely feel the urge for a long hot shower after a tour around Tokyo’s Merguro Parasitol, an establishment dedicated to parasites. The only museum of its kind, the stomach-churning collection is over 45,000-strong, with star specimens including a parasite poking out of a turtle’s head and the world’s longest tapeworm in all its 8.8-metre glory—there’s even a nearby rope of the same length to give you a ‘feel’ for it. There’s plenty of educational information here also, taking a look at the science behind the creature and how it interacts with the world, and, unfortunately, the people that live in it. You can even pick up some parasite-inspired merch.

 

Dog’s heart infected. Meguro Parasitological Museum. Tokyo, Japan.

 

 

Museum of Broken Relationships, Croatia and the USA

The museum equivalent of an Adele album, the Museum of Broken Relationships was first established in Zagreb before a sister site emerged in Los Angles, inspired by the stuff left behind when one lover leaves another. A global crowd-sourcing experiment, donated items range from the tear- to the fear-inducing, including teddy bears, jewellery, an axe, and a prosthetic leg, accompanied by heart-wrenching texts. There’s even a tiny jar of some poor woman’s actual tears.

 

A donation from an anonymous Norwegian divorcee: ‘This iron was used to iron my wedding suit. Now it is the only thing left’ (Tim Walker)

 

 

Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum, Austria

Opened in 2011 on his sixty-fourth birthday, in the village of Thal, the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum sprouts from the star’s childhood home, where he lived until 1966 when he left to pursue his bodybuilding dreams (before acting and politics, Arnie won Mr Olympia seven times and is considered among the greatest ever bodybuilders). Now the museum, operating with the Terminator’s blessing, houses artefacts such as his childhood bed, a motorbike from one of his films, his first dumb-bells and a copy of his desk when California’s governor. You’ll be back.

 

Statue of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator

 

 

MUSA, Mexico

The Cancun Underwater Museum, or MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Arte), rests under the crystal seas of the Mexican National Marine Park. More than 400 sculptures can be explored by scuba diving, snorkelling or from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat, each one crafted from eco-friendly materials designed to promote coral life that will eventually become its own incredible reef. The pieces sit at depths of three to nine metres, some depicting residents and celebrities of the local region. 

 

Work by Jason de Caires Taylor

 

 

Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, India

Positioned in New Delhi, the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets, er, flushes out every last detail of the history of the latrine, sewerage and sanitation, from 2,500BC to the present day. Learn of the evolution of the toilet and marvel at real life offerings like the gold-plated ones graced by Roman emperors through to the ornate Victorian chamber pots. There’s even toilet poetry! The Sulabh NGO is also working to fix India’s sanitation issues by building more public toilets—more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people don’t have a toilet at home.

 

Toilets exhibited at Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

 

 

Torture Museum, Netherlands

Not for the faint hearted, Amsterdam’s Torture Museum showcases more than 40 terrifying instruments of torture of the Middle Ages from across Europe, including the guillotine and the spike-adorned inquisition chair. Unfortunate victims included criminals (not always fairly tried), political prisoners and those (usually women) accused of witchcraft. Alas, the practice has not been consigned to history, and the museum educates about modern-day torture still carried out in dozens of countries, while supporting the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture. 

 

Gloomies Museums, The Netherlands, Torture Museum, Chastity Chair