I AM A KNOWN killer of plants. I try to only take care of plants that are easy to care for and difficult to kill because I don’t want to be responsible for another wilted leaf, but I manage to kill them anyway. I even killed my bamboo plant. I realized then that it probably doesn’t matter what kind of plants I grow, they’ll all die.
A few weeks ago, I texted my boyfriend in excitement because I noticed one of my succulents had grown. I’m sure he sensed how happy it made me. Shortly after I noticed the growth, the plant’s leaves had fallen off. I’m still trying to propagate them, but they’ve turned brown which is not a good sign.
Despite my extremely grey thumb, I love plants. Especially succulents and plants with flowers. My favourite flowers are roses.
My attraction to flowers draws me to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. Her close up details of flowers are stunning.
Her works is often interpreted as vaginal because the often shadowy centers of spreading petals resemble the female vagina and vulva. The flowers are eroticized in this commonly accepted Freudian reading of her art.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Iris. 1926. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY. Oil on Canvas.
Despite the artist’s adamant denial that the paintings were in any way sexual, O’Keeffe’s paintings continue to be viewed as vaginal. There aren’t many artists about which the question can be asked, flowers or vaginas?
The sexual reading into O’Keeffe’s art began in the 1920s. O’Keeffe became reducible to critics because of this reading, unlike multi-faceted readings granted to other (especially male) artists. During the 1970s, feminists found the sexual reading of O’Keeffe’s flowers to be empowering.
The first time I viewed O’Keeffe’s flower paintings, I was sprawled across my bed in my late teens, scrolling through famous paintings for an online art class. Like so many people before me, perhaps unoriginally, I saw the vaginal quality in O’Keeffe’s flowers, though I did not find the quality to be sexual or erotic.
I understand that O’Keeffe painted flowers, not vaginas, but this doesn’t change that there is an abstract similarity between the flowers and the female anatomy. I find it troubling, however, that because O’Keeffe’s work is interpreted as vaginal it is also so closely tied with eroticism. Vulvas are not erotic objects. They are a natural part of the body as flowers are a natural part of the earth. Though vaginas are often used for sex, this does not make them inherently sexual. The vulva does not exist for the erotic gaze.
There is a beauty to the natural detail O’Keeffe portrays in her modernist flowers that I find exquisite. She doesn’t flinch away from the vaginal resemblance, despite not wishing to portray that.
I have plants despite my unfortunate accidental tendency to kill them because I appreciate their beauty. I believe O’Keeffe deeply appreciated the beauty found in the natural. Her flowers appear to exist between thighs, showing the wonderful beauty and simplicity that nature offers to us everyday.