When I spoke to Zoe, the Vagina Museum’s Development and Marketing Manager, she admitted that securing the space in Camden was a total coup – and so in line with the area’s radical history. Wandering around the cobbled alleys of the ‘Stables Market’ has acquired a whole new meaning. The location will definitely make the museum more visible and accessible. Just what it needs! And you certainly get a full sense of that on the inside - visitors are both intentional and serendipitous, some giggle, some surprised, while others examine the facts and contents studiously. In its opening weekend (16 November 2019), a staggering 4,000 visitors popped by, many having to queue to see the exhibition.
So, what is it all about?
The museum’s founder Florence Schechter was shocked to find that there was a penis museum, sex and sex toys museums – and none about the vagina. But such is the stigma about the gynaecological anatomy that it is hardly surprising. The museum therefore is a big step into debunking myths and provides an important resource for everyone. Be prepared for your assumptions to be challenged.
You’ll find some gobsmacking stats like 60% of women can’t label the vulva on an anatomical diagram or that more than a quarter of women aged 25 to 29 in Britain are too embarrassed to attend cervical screening. The exhibition offers fun and informative exhibits – treating the subject with the depth and warmth it deserves! It felt strangely liberating to see it all out in the open and great to see a diverse bunch of visitors.
More than a museum
The response to its opening has been overwhelmingly positive, with people from all over the world, from the USA to Australia and across Europe, visiting and showing an interest. There is even discussion, in future, once it is more established and resources permit it, to take exhibitions on tour. But first, the focus is on securing a permanent home by 2030!
Inevitably, there has been some criticism from certain quarters, including about the mission statement, which clearly promotes intersectional, feminist and trans-inclusive values – as it should. We cannot challenge taboo about our bodies and parts of our anatomy without also addressing issues of gender and sex and challenging heteronormative, cisnormative[i] behaviours.
Don’t let yourself be distracted by naysayers. The Vagina Museum has been a long time coming and a welcome addition to London’s feminist initiatives. In addition, it has the potential to act like a hub where likeminded feminist organisations can stage small events, quizzes or comedy nights. What’s not to like?
Of course there are lots to do and see in Camden Town. Make sure not to miss the statue of Amy Winehouse, which is super close to the Vagina Museum. You can of course spend time walking around to find Amy street art – in what really feels like her neighbourhood. And if you are feeling peckish, have a snack with a difference. Pop into the gorgeous and dangerously delicious Luminary Bakery. It’s a social enterprise supporting women and providing them opportunities to build a future for themselves. Bon appétit!
Also keep in mind some of London’s less visited museums and galleries like the Zabludowich Collections or the Jewish museum which always has interesting exhibitions, including the now permanent Through a Queer Lens - the first comprehensive series of photographic portraits of Jewish LGBTQ people.
And, of course, it is impossible to go to Camden Town without a special thought for Amy Winehouse. As you walk around, you will inevitably see beautiful tributes, like this one at legendary music venue the Dublin Castle. The Jewish Museum actually launched an #AmyStreetArt map, which will round off the day perfectly, before you head to Amy's local with a drink at the Hawley Arms.
Unit 17 & 18, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AH
Monday to Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 6 pm
By tube: Camden Town, Chalk Farm stations (northern line)
By train: Camden Road
Bus routes: 27, 31, 168 (Chalk farm Road); 88, 134, 214 (Hawley Road)
Luminary Bakery (is also very close to the museum – on the main road)
47 Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 8AJ
Weekdays: 8 am to 5.30 pm
Weekends: 9 am – 5.30 pm
Jewish Museum London
Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1 &NB
Open every day from 10am – 5pm, except Fridays 10 am to 2 pm and on certain holidays.
By tube: Camden Town or Mornington Crescent (northern line)
By train: Camden Road
For bus routes – see all local bus routes to the museum