Think of the last time you felt completely vulnerable in public. If you’re a woman, this should be easy—maybe it was when you walked home alone at night. Maybe you were catcalled on the street, or grabbed without your consent as someone brushed past you on the bus.
San Francisco-based artist Allison Bouganim wants to confront the public spaces that can make us feel uncomfortable. She’s beginning with butts.
“It started with the idea and an open call on social media,” Bouganim says. “I wanted to ask if any women felt comfortable with me making a sculpture out of their bodies. So what that means is that I take actual molds of their butts.”
“Wax That Ass,” a project by the 18-year-old multimedia artist, is a series that capitalizes on a culture that deifies the ass. Bouganim creates plaster and wax sculptures made from molds of women’s butts and places them in various public locations in a guerilla-style art installation.
Bouganim placed the sculptures in various high-traffic areas around Miami. Some of the sites were known areas of frequent sexual harassment, others were places where Bouganim herself said she has experienced discomfort. “Wax That Ass” has appeared on the beach, in laundromats, on rooftops, and on church steps.
Bouganim’s site-specific installations were done “quick, dirty, and without permission,” according to her website.
The placement of the sculptures without explicit permission provides an impactful commentary on consent. Though the final images embody a certain level of humor and absurdity, Bouganim’s work takes a hard look at how the female body takes up space in public.
But the work is also meant to be touched: Each sculpture is embedded with super-conductive contact points that trigger a speaker attached to the piece. When you press a contact point, the sculpture talks.
“I worked with the women to use phrases that connected to whatever their experiences were, then one-on-one, I created the sculptures,” Bouganim says. “It’s allowing their stories to be heard.”
Since the sculptures are stand–alone pieces that are temporarily installed, there is little to no instruction that the sculptures are interactive. Viewers are forced to give themselves permission to touch and interact with the butts.
“Most of the time, women were more likely to interact directly with the sculptures,” Bouganim says. “But I noticed men were the ones who were really cognizant of the fact that they’re butt sculptures, figuring out, ‘Where are other people touching?’ or ‘Is this OK?’ Men were more apprehensive to touch them. It’s the opposite in real life.”
Bouganim also debuted a separate interactive sculpture series titled “Trumped,” inspired by President Donald Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” comment. Complete with orange “toupees,” these sculptures are also cast from real women’s bodies and the contact points prompt the piece to repeat a Trump quote.
“My sculptures aren’t intentionally political,” Bouganim says. “But I think they just end up encompassing all of these current events.”
Bouganim is at work on a similar series in collaboration with rape survivors who volunteered their bodies for molds and recorded phrases that directly impacted their experiences.
“It’s empowering them to speak up and to know that their stories are valid,” she says. “You don’t have to be a rape survivor to have a valid story and to be afraid of what could happen. It’s about empowerment and fearlessness.”