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On Set | Megan Miao

By Bianca Husodo

Purple whales exist in prisons, apparently. Though not in the deep-sea mammal sense.

An unofficial lingo for makeshift dildos in American women’s prisons, female inmates assemble these purple whales utilising whatever amenities made available to them. Often, maxi pads and toothbrushes are the predominant craft materials at hand. Rolled together, a toothbrush as its securing spine and maxi pads as the less-rigid swathes of bolster around it, the bundle is then inserted into a finger of a latex glove. The prison which pioneered the jargon, presumably, circulated purple gloves. Hence its moniker.

Singaporean multidisciplinary artist Megan Miao has never been incarcerated, but as the 26-year-old was preparing and researching on a project that would become her DIY sex toy workshop, she stumbled upon the purple whale. It was an apt conversation generator, she decided, and included the making of it as part of the workshop’s programme.

The workshop is a participatory artwork involving Miao herself as the affable conductor and some 10 attendees who have signed up to partake in the hour-long session. She recently hosted two workshop sessions at Telok Ayer Arts Club, where she guided small groups of male and female twenty-somethings to create handmade sex toys using everyday objects, including the purple whale — mainly made of toothbrush, sponges (instead of pads) and finger cots (instead of sliced latex glove fingers).

Meant to be figurative and not literal, the workshop’s main takeaway was not the objects — the bizarre purple whales were hardly safe for actual usage though they made for cheeky desk mementoes — it was the unbarred conversations around the topic of personal pleasure that were organically incited among the participants. As each built his or her own purple whale, flogger or imaginary sex toy yet to be invented, exploratory questions were posed as to why certain bits were added, what sensations they would induce, how they could heighten pleasure.

“Sexuality was something that wasn’t really acknowledged when I was brought up. My family is conservative in the sense that — you know with Chinese families — there are just certain things that you tend not to talk about,” says Miao. The young artist, whose practice steeps into questioning boundaries, wants to scrape off taboos and to germinate open, healthy discussions on sexuality at large.

“It doesn’t have to be a common dinner topic with friends and family. It’s just that when people speak about sexuality, there is no shame involved so that we’re comfortable with talking about personal sexuality and pleasure as opposed to just collectively. I hope to break that barrier a little bit,” Miao posits.

Here, Miao accepts T’s challenge to create an object — a remastered purple whale — using a few select materials including an issue of T.