Show Me your Button: A Navel Gazing Project

I make belly button portraits...

Watercolor and ink, various dimensions (20 x 15 cm to 10 x 17 cm)



About THE PRoject

It's often the first question that people ask..."What is that?!?

Most people approaching this project initially search for some sort of clear representation. Lacking any immediate reference point in the small colorful rectangles, they quickly switch to exploring each as an abstraction. They look for meaning in the lines and shades and--most importantly--that central shadowy pit or bulge somewhere around the center.

Show Me Your Button is a collaborative and performance-based project. It is a collection of belly button portraits from people around the world. The concept is simple: take time to turn away from our own navel gazing and participate in building a lasting reminder that we are both unique and universal–that there is as much variation in our similarities as consistency in our differences.



Anatomically the navel, or umbilicus, is a depression or protrusion in the abdominal wall left after the removal of the umbilical cord. It is the last remnant of our maternal lifeline. It is a scar…and one that we all share. It’s shape and size vary depending, first, on how the umbilical cord is cut, and, later, on an infinite set of genetic traits and life circumstances.


As defined by Merriam-Webster, navel gazing is “the activity of thinking too much or too deeply about yourself, your experiences, [or] your feelings….” It is a term increasingly used in popular culture. You can find it in the titles of hundreds if not thousands of personal blogs, books on pregnancy, weight loss, social commentaries on feminist movements, yoga, psychic belly button reading and a host of academic essay collections (although many in the Academy opt for the Greek, omphaloskepsis). Some consider concentration on the navel as a precursor to meditation. Others simply value our little button-sized scar as a valuable reference to literal or rhetorical origin points.

navels and narratives

Is it really a surprise that we each spend a majority of our lives contemplating new opportunities, necessary to-dos, impending problems, possible solutions, well-laid plans, past mistakes, next steps, ideal outcomes, happy endings? Whom else, if not us, will worry about the minutia of our story? In its rhetorical function, the navel serves is strikingly symbolic of our personal narratives. It represents not only the circumstances of our birth, but the seminal moments that shaped us–the things about ourselves which we often see but rarely question. In our small vestigial scar we glimpse all of the raw materials for what came after a brief and violent moment of our awakening. And though most of our daily energies are focused forward trying to keep up with changing scripts and twisting plotlines, many of us seek comfort not in the future, but in the foundational beliefs laid out in our own Genesis chapters.


I’ve discovered that completing a belly button portrait is a surprisingly intimate experience, perhaps more so than traditional portraiture. Rather than the “alloverness” that comes from having someone capture your entire body–even nude–the intense focus on just your navel can be unsettling. Its a sensitive area that provokes all types of self-consciousness when scrutinized by someone else. More than once, I’ve had people warn me about their strange, abnormal, or otherwise imperfect navels. Love handles, umbilical hernias, overgrown happy trails, cesarean scars, cavernous innies, overzealous outies, jagged stretch marks…those personal imperfections that they’ve discovered in the course of their own navel gazing. This project would be incomplete without these infinite little variations.


Now you can commission your own portrait. :)

For anyone interested in contributing to this project, your belly button portrait is only an email away. Please send the following to

  • Two high quality images of your belly button (use your phone and try one without flash!)
  • Include your Gender, Age, Hometown (city, state/region, country) in the body of the email (whatever you feel comfortable sharing)

Finished portraits, roughly the size of an extra-large postcard, will be created using watercolor and ink. (Portrait sizes and materials may vary)

Once your portrait is completed you can donate it to the collection! Aside from this online gallery, the physical portraits that remain in the collection will become part of a larger exhibition.


Still not sure? Feeling uncomfortable? If you have concerns, questions or suggestions you can get my attention at