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Menstrual Art: Yesterday and Today

Menstrual Blood's symbolism has been explored since the beginning of times through rituals, arts, and other performances. The essence of the event 'Menstrual Art: Yesterday and Today' was to bring forth various expressions of Menstrala through subjective inspirations for personal and political statements. Here, the 'Yesterday' represents the work of feminist artists who have paved the way for Today's expression of using menstrual blood as a medium, allowing artists to reach avenues across social media.


The event started with a presentation that consisted of various artists who have used menstrual blood as a medium. The artwork spans a period of 1971-2017. In this blog, we present the art in chronological order.


Judy Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom (1971) - In woman house Chicago created in an otherwise sterile bathroom scene, the trash can overflowing with bloody menstruation pads and a few bloody tampons, bloodstains on the tile floor, blood-drenched pads neatly hanging from a clothesline, a heating pad hanging near the toilet, and the shelves covered with sanitary products for mensuration. Considering how little we discuss periods today, in 1971, this was a subject that was not addressed in public whatsoever. The shock value and statement made by this work was immense.



Red Flag - Judy Chicago (1971) - Red Flag may be the first work of art - and it was, and is, controversial - to show this commonplace event in many women's lives: removing a tampon. The artist commented that many people did not know what the red object was, and some thought it was a bloody penis!



Carolee Schneeman's Blood Work Diary (1971) - The artist, Carolee Schneeman, describes the piece Blood Work Diary as a 'record of my interiority.' The work's power lies in the element of surprise, a realization that enforces the potency of the complicated taboos that surround menstruation in society. Each blot marks a day, a cyclical depiction of time, rather than a progressive linear one with Blood on Tissue with Egg Yolk.



Mako Idemitsu's What a woman made (1973) - The video juxtaposes the image of a bloody tampon with a male voice reading from the misogynistic 'How to Raise Girl Children.' In using this device, the artist, Mako, recognizes how negativity is culturally tied to women's nature. The video is 10 minutes 50 seconds long and was showcased as a screening.



Menstruation 1- Catherine Elwes (1979) - This piece was performed at the white room, Slade School of Art, and explores the isolation of menstruation. The artist confronts the forcible eradication of women's biology from culture. The performance concentrated on physical and psychological changes as a source of knowledge and creative energy. The artist enclosed herself in a glass-fronted compartment in the corner of a Slade studio while visibly bleeding for several days.



Menstruation 2 - Catherine Elwes (1979) - A three-day performance coinciding with the duration of a menstrual period. Catherine enclosed herself in a white box, dressed in white clothes, in one of the Slade studios. The front of the box was glass, so she could be observed writing answers to questions that viewers asked. Elwes wrote that the work was a challenge to try to make menstruation a metaphorical framework. It becomes the medium for expressing ideas and experiences by giving it the authority of cultural form and placing it in an art context. This performance aimed to reinstate menstruation as a potential source of creative energy lost to the patriarchal order and contemporary taboo.



Kiki Smith's Untitled (1986) - The piece features twelve glass jars, each inscribed with the names of different body fluids: semen, mucus, vomit, oil, tears, blood, milk, saliva, diarrhea, urine, sweat, and pus. Upon closer inspection, the jars do not contain these substances but rather have mirrors inside, reflecting the viewer's image back at them. The viewer is compelled into identification with sticky and unstable aspects of human embodiment that we rarely speak of or represent. She depicts the most secret and sordid aspects of what it means to have a body; she makes visible the processes that we desperately try to keep hidden, the functions that we cannot control, and the substances we produce that revolt us. These processes (such as urination, defecation, and menstruation) invoke shame and embarrassment: they can make us feel vulnerable and out of control.



Kiki Smith's Train (1993) - A nude made from wax, Train (1993), looks back at the bright red beads that clearly represent menstrual blood. In these works, Smith again represents the body's functions that are among the most hidden and yet most universally experienced. Linda Nochlin posits that "there is something scary and taboo about incorporating the bodily functions that Smith engages with so boldly into the work of art, as though revealing them suggests that the body itself is only a work in progress," a project that is never complete but rather always contingent on processes, on its leaks and flows. Her work shifts between being very literal and highly conceptual as it deals with being psychological, introspective, and often mystical.



Menstrala by Vanessa Tiegs (2002-2003) - Menstrala is the word Vaneesa Tiegs coined to name a genre of paintings whose "medium is the message." She says, "The Menstrala art movement asks us to ponder 5 symbolisms of woman's blood - renewable fertility, deeply conditioned, oldest but least understood taboo, grief for women trying to conceive, challenges for women dealing with reproductive health issues and cyclic opportunity for self-introspection. Her 88 Menstrala created between 2000-2003 affirm menstrual blood as a regenerative and productive symbol of psychological and cycle logical importance.



Isilumo Siyaluma - Zanele Muholi (2006-2011) - Through visual projects, Muholi attempts to cope with the pain and loss she hears and feels as she bears witness to human suffering. Isilumo Siyaluma deviates from what constitutes acceptable female sexuality in South Africa. As it appeared in Cape Town in 2011, this project involved digital photographic prints, installation artwork, and community engagement. Throughout the installation, menstrual blood is used as medium and subject matter. Isilumo Siyaluma is a Zulu expression that can be loosely translated to - Period pains.



"When a woman bleeds, it's an act of love." Isa Sanz (2008) - The series named 'Menstrual Consciousness' is a photographic work performed in front of a camera, where the blood is the nexus between the individual and the collective experience. The blood in menstruation, usually seen as a taboo, is shown as a sign of beauty and poetry. According to Simon Beauvoir, in her book 'The Second Sex,' menstruation blood represents femininity's essence. Within the series, there are four pieces of work named 'Reflection' 'Alchemy' 'I am you' and 'Blood Sisters'



Red Is the Colour - Ingrid Berthone-Moine (2009) - This body of work explores the phenomenon of menstruation and the taboo attached to it by researching the origins of make-up. Each woman is identified with the name of a lipstick commonly found at beauty counters. It is an ironic link with the beauty industry and the semiotics used in naming lipsticks. Ancient tribes like the Dieri in Australia venerate menstrual blood by applying it on or around the mouth to signal menstruation's arrival and made lipstick one of the first cosmetics. 'Red Is the Colour' questions female identity through the photographic portrait: ideology, passions, and aesthetics collide, and photography is used as a space for expression, conflict, and evolution.



Lani Beloso's Period Pieces (2010) - Beloso suffered from dysmenorrhea and began this project to use her immense pain and bleeding productively. Made over a year, these pieces involve Beloso either directly sitting on the canvas or collecting blood to paint with, which she then covers in resin where the blood remains suspended. Interestingly, air and temperature factors can change the blood's color, such as from deep red to maroon.



Maria Eugenia Matricardi's Pintura corporal de guerra (2009) - Maria engages in menstrual art performance. The performance is described here "Naked, I enter the gallery. I spend a few minutes concentrating. I remove, from inside the vagina, a menstrual cup. I dip the middle and annular fingers in the blood, trace a horizontal line beneath the eyes. I paint the face and then trace a vertical line through the torso, another horizontal one through the breasts. I use the fingers to stamp drops of blood that flow through the chest's right and left sides. I put the rest of menstruation in the mouth, I taste the endometrium and let the blood flow from the mouth to the torso until it reaches the vagina and drips onto the floor."



Jen Lewis' Beauty in Blood (2012) - Jen Lewis quickly became entranced by the designs the poured blood made in the toilet: the stark contrast of bright crimson against the white porcelain bowl; the various plunging speeds at which the clots, fluid, and tissue traveled to the bottom; and the patterns made by the liquid upon its first impact with the water and the subsequent patterns made as it dispersed through the water. There was a captivating, unexpected yet undeniable attractiveness there in the bowl before me that she had never previously observed. Separate from the "beauty of giving life" that is hammered into us by society from puberty into adulthood; Her work captures those moments on film and presents them within the traditional context of fine art.



Carina Ubeda's 90 soiled cloths, dangling next to apples (2013) - This work was exhibited at the Center of Culture and Health in Quillota, the everyday fabrics, which Ubeda used instead of tampons or pads, and are presented as 'an abstract image.' She then stitched words like 'Production', 'Discard', and 'Destroyed' below each of the stains.



Poppy Jackson's Television Lounge (2014) - Poppy Jackson stands motionless in the old Television Lounge of a derelict Police Headquarters, in the corner where the TV-set was previously situated when the building was a working Police Station. She faces the wall continuously for 7 hours while menstruating. Over the duration of the work, blood slowly drips down her legs and onto the carpet.



Period by Rupi Kaur (2015) - 'Period' is a photo series developed by Rupi for a visual rhetoric course in her final year at university. "I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species. Whether I choose to create or not. But very few times, it is seen that way. In older civilizations, this blood was considered holy. In some, it still is. But a majority of people, Societies, and communities shun this natural process. As if this process is not Love. Labour. Life. Selfless and strikingly beautiful.



Sarah Levy's Whatever (2015) - The piece was created to oppose US President Donald Trump's remarks calling Mexican citizens' rapists' and implying that Fox News host Megyn Kelly was 'hard on him' because she was on her period. Trump referred to Megyn Kelly as bleeding out of her "wherever" to explain why she had been so mean and asked him such tough questions during the debate. This painting is in response to that.



Bee Hughes's Cycles (2016-17) - Dr. Bee uses self-examination to understand themes of embodiment through menstruation. This piece uses acrylic and menstrual fluid on hand-stitched linen scrolls. Cycles, along with other artwork, questions the established heteronormativity in online medical advice and documents a changing menstrual cycle.



The Diary of My Period - Timea Pall (2017) - She describes her work as one drop of experiment and realized the beauty of the pain, the value of the period, and fertilizing her whole being. In her own words, 'The periodic elimination of my ovum with my menstrual flow inspired me to give birth to something that has a biological end and create the start of the end. The focus is not on the blood, but the work has its message because of the menstrual flow. I feel that this artwork has a mission, even if it's not able to see, talk, or breathe. Still, maybe the audience will see, talk, and breathe instead of this little creature, independently from any sexual orientation, skin tone, or religious views… When an "ovum dies," an "artwork is born."'



The art presentation concluded here as Taylor Meagher and Revathi took over the event as guest speakers addressing the audiences on their work with menstrual blood.


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