Aida Silvestri

Unsterile Clinic

In the United Kingdom, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still considered to be a taboo topic and women refuse to talk about it openly, but it has begun to make headlines in recent years. Specialist clinics within the NHS offer different services such as counselling, sexual advice, physical examinations and reversal procedures. Clinics have also begun to work with local communities and the police to raise awareness and educate parents affected by FGM to prevent exposing their children and young adults to this tragic mutilation.
However, all these safety measurements and screening process in place are not enough; some FGM victims slip through the system and remain undiagnosed until it is an emergency.

Inspired by personal experience, I started an in-depth investigation into Female Genital Mutilation by interviewing East African women in London affected by this cruel procedure. After comparing the stories of women from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti, reflecting on my own personal experience and conducting further research, I discovered that the majority of FGM cases in the United Kingdom are diagnosed during pregnancy or labour although a few are not diagnosed until the second or third child after undergoing unexplained caesarean sections during the earlier pregnancies.

The aim of this project is to raise awareness of this procedure in the hope that women, young girls and children who may not realize the severity or what type of FGM they have are encouraged to go through an early screening process before it becomes an emergency. I also hope that this project encourages medical staff, when examining women affected by FGM, have the courage to speak openly with them about it.

For this project, I have chosen to take an aesthetic approach in order to reduce the intensity of the subject matter. Beads and flowers are stitched onto soft leather to resemble the subjects’ skin colours in order to create the different types of FGM. These are then attached onto the mouth areas of subjects’ silhouette portraits. The leather pieces show the various stages of tissue removal where cutting took place; the portraits are accompanied by short poems from interviews highlighting their FGM experiences. It is my hope that this approach will make it more accessible to a wider audience.

Image Credit (In order of appearance) : 

Type I B

Type I C

Type I C

Type I B – Distance

Type II C

Type II D

Type II E

Type II F

Type II G

Type II H

Type III F

New commission courtesy © Aida Silvestri / Autograph ABP. 2016

About the Artist

Artist Website

Aida Silvestri is a visual activist based in the UK. She holds a BA (First Hons) in photography from the University of Westminster, London. Silvestri creates work that challenges the status quo of stigma, prejudice, and social injustice by raising awareness of human rights issues, highlighting marginalised voices and displaced communities. She explores the politics of representation through mixed media portraiture and innovative practices.

Silvestri’s work is included in private and institutional collections and has been exhibited as part of African Cosmologies: Photography, Time and the Other at the 2020 FotoFest Biennale, Houston, USA; at Autograph, London; The Photographers’ Gallery, London; Saatchi Gallery, London; TEAT Champ Fleuri, La Réunion Island; Arendt House, Luxembourg; Musée National d’Histoire-aux-Poissons, Luxembourg; Gah Museum, Taiwan; Athens Photo Festival Benaki Museum Athens, Greece; Cours de L’Archevéché, Arles; Centquarter Paris, France; Roman Road London. She was a remote artist-in-residence in spring 2021 at Light Work, Syracuse, and in 2017 she received the Circulation(s) Festival audience award and was shortlisted for the Arendt European Month of Photography awards.