My name is Hani and I make tastefully tasteless ceramic art under the name of Gashtrays. Gashtrays is a sex and body-positive ceramics line celebrating the glorious curves, folds, and flaps of real bodacious bodies. These crude pieces aim to challenge society’s censorship and shaming of the natural body, encouraging us to appreciate the beauty and humour of the human form instead.
We see penises everywhere – graffitied on walls and desks, erected loftily in the form of the Shard – truly, a Freudian wet dream. Sadly, vaginas aren’t part of our daily lives at all, leaving everyone pretty perplexed. In fact, the scientific community’s general disinterest meant that the full clitoral structure wasn’t discovered until 1998. And it wasn’t until 2009 that the illustrious ‘vaginal orgasm’ was debunked, revealing it to actually be an ‘internal clitoral orgasm’ in disguise.
Making vaginas more visible through art and design helps normalise them. It forces people to see the beauty and natural diversity in their shapes, sizes and orientations, helping us to become more comfortable and less ashamed of our own.
The first vulva-related piece I made was a birthday present for a dear friend during my art foundation course in Leeds. Like many art school boys, he liked to talk about feminism and his dedication to cunnilingus over a joint or two. A strong advocate of cheap dirty puns, I made him the first ever Gashtray as a piss-take – that’s a vulva-shaped tray if you need it spelled out for you. Ever the cynic, the object was my attempt at a satirical comment on the objectification of the female form. Uncomfortable with the look and functionality of it, he both loved and hated it – the perfect reaction. A low blow, but the irony tickled me, maybe more than it should have. But after I posted it on Instagram, I was met by an army of fellow sadistic provocateurs, keen to commission their own pieces. Honoured to be part of their clan, I decided to commit to Gashtrays and began to develop the brand and its concept.
As the business began to snowball, I tried to educate myself as much as possible on the history of different cultural attitudes and social norms surrounding sex and the body. This is where I was introduced to my nemesis, The Taboo.
Taboos teach us the do’s and don’ts of social conduct. Often based in outdated social and religious customs, they come in all shapes and sizes, telling us what to do, like, hate, say, wear, eat and fuck. Taboos protect the infrastructure of our patriarchal society, by silencing the debate around issues deemed as ‘sensitive’ or ‘TMI’ and ignoring the needs of those most often affected. Our delicious high carb diet of misrepresentative mainstream media, unrealistic porn, and superficial diet culture further reinforces these taboos, wreaking havoc on our blood pressure and self-image. This relentless conditioning has taught us one simple message: that we should be ashamed of our flaws and our desires. Furthermore, sexual education in schools glazes over so many vital aspects of natural sex and the body, such as foreplay, pleasure and experimentation. This education, alongside the unrealistic standards set by pornography, leaves us with a plethora of damaging myths and misconceptions to carry into adulthood. It’s created a culture where ‘no’ translates to ‘maybe’, and there’s a whole choreographed song and dance to avoid saying the word ‘tampon’ out loud.
These stigmas have a real tangible impact on our personal lives, but also on a much wider scale in society. They manifest in violent unscientific rituals designed to oppress and control, such as FGM, male circumcision, Chhaupadi; as well as phenomena such as ‘Corrective Rape’ in Uganda, the passing of the ‘Gay Propaganda Law’ in Russia, the recent Abortion Ban in Alabama, and worldwide period poverty. Despite our supposed ‘progress’, taboos still hold an astonishing amount of power over us at all socio-economic levels, in and out of the bedroom.
While this might seem like a bit of a daunting task for a bloody ceramist to try to take on, it seemed to me that the only place you can start to break down these barriers is within your own home, amongst your friends, family and loved ones. Today, Gashtrays is my method for confronting taboos, in an attempt to unpick issues of gender-based inequality in our world. I make a wide range of decorative and functional ceramics focusing on all types of genitalia, to raise money for relevant charities surrounding issues of gender equality, diversity, sexual health, and education.
Displaying a Gashtray in your home is a symbolic act of solidarity with the people whose lives are at risk due to sexual taboos.
My method may be questionable, but frankly, I revel in the discomfort. By pairing these supposedly ‘vulgar’ subjects, with a fun and humorous design, the audience is disarmed, allowing me to address the bigger issues. Gashtrays aims to confront these taboos with open arms and a tongue firmly in cheek. Let’s talk about fanny fart etiquette. Ever faked an orgasm?
Personally, my relationship with sex and my sexuality became warped at a young age. Sex wasn’t a mutually enjoyable experience for two, it was an activity for him, and I was the means to an end. My bisexuality was a ‘joke’ and ‘abnormal’ until it played into their fantasies. Well, as my daily life became even more vagina-orientated, the act of sculpting these vulvas began to take on another meaning for me. It was defiance and it was therapeutic.
I was taking back control of my body and my sexuality and prioritising my pleasure in a way I’d never been taught to before.
As I began to do events, workshops, and exhibitions with Gashtrays, I met a huge community of sex and body-positive misfits.
By sharing their knowledge, they educate and empower others, helping to undo the damage these stigmas have wrought.
The value of having your past experiences and even your traumas validated by a community of people who want to listen is simply priceless.
It has taught me that the more we invest in exploring our own bodies, the more autonomy we have over our health and pleasure. The less you know your body, the harder it is to establish your own boundaries or know when something could be wrong. We must learn to love our bodies before we can trust anyone else to. Gashtrays has been a seriously educational journey for me, and I’m still learning how to practice what I preach. I’m always anxious to get out of my echo chamber and discuss taboo with the big wigs out there. But for now, being plunged into this community of sex and body-positive warriors has gifted me more than I ever thought possible.