“Menstrual blood is the only source of blood that is not traumatically induced. Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen.” So said poet, activist and scholar Judy Grahn, in her seminal book, “Blood, Bread and Roses: How Menstruation Created The World“. And she couldn’t have put it more perfectly. Grahn’s words rang truer than ever when I came across a number of artworks on Instagram. Each of them depicted an experience that was incredibly familiar, and yet somehow never saw the light of day.
The reasons for this secrecy are manifold. We are told to be ashamed of our menstrual blood, we are told not to ‘offend the sensibilities’ of our non-bleeding male relatives by talking about our periods, and what’s worse is that so many of us are denied access to menstrual hygiene products, or we’re taxed extra for it.
Created by Melbourne-based artist ‘Alpaca Ceramics’, this isn’t your typical Victorian-era realist painting. The Victorians were notorious for clamping down on sexual expression, and women’s bodies in particular. The bright red blood at the centre of the painting is then a massive ‘F U’ to that kind of morality, which we all know still exists today.
This colourful piece forces you to stop and pay attention to it. When it comes to periods, the rest of the world may have its head in the sand like an ostrich, but not artist Arramazka, from Basque Country. Not only does the piece bat no eyelids about menstrual blood, it also depicts a woman masturbating – patriarchal society is probably close to imploding right about now!
Put your hands together for artist Yessica Jimemez, because we’ve never seen anybody make a sanitary napkin this aesthetic. Titled “Mi Sangre Es Vida” (which means “my blood is life” in Spanish, the painting was made soon after the artist had a miscarriage. It uses recognisably feminine motifs like the lunar cycle and flowers, and to great effect. She says: “The first period after losing my fetus was a major step towards healing emotionally. I took it as a reminder of my fertility and ever since I have an even greater appreciation for my menstrual cycle.”
Another flower-filled piece is this lovely painting of a uterus by Cailey Indech, an Ob-Gyn in training. Many of us might have less than charitable feelings towards this particular organ, especially when those menstrual cramps set in, but Indech’s art reminds us to show that uterus a little love. After all, it’s a crucial part of the body!
Made by 23-year-old art history student Steph Vance, this piece is titled “Art, Activism and Citizenship”. One of the more political artworks on Instagram, it is both arresting and incredibly uncomfortable to look at. And that’s a good thing. Vance makes an important comment on the state of reproductive rights, saying: “It is the powerful people in government, along with large corporations who now have control over women’s right to choose; in this way they can commodify women and their bodies to make more money.”
A professional artist from Iran, Nastaran Safaei’s art work once again confronts the stupor we have all fallen into when it comes to menstruation. The steel scrubber placed over the art seems to convey a kind of harsh censorship or sanitising mission wherever normal menstrual functions are concerned.
Here’s a piece made for Menstrual Hygiene Day by artist Rishi Mishra. Literally anyone who menstruated knows this sight all too well. We all hate losing our favourite panties to ‘The Red Ninja’, but sometimes it pays to appreciate even these moments of extreme irritation.
The sight of soaked tampon may be a source of a lot of anguish to a society that acts like menstruation is a shameful secret. And that’s what makes this artwork by Judy Chicago so jarring and so important. Unless you’re the one dealing with your own tampons, it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever even know what this process looks like. Sometimes it’s good to just shock people out of their blissful, willful ignorance about how periods and menstrual hygiene works.
This last piece, curated by @her.period, really ties together what we’ve been talking about all along. Not only do women (and all other menstruating people) have to deal with the cramps, the bleeding, the clean up, and assorted hormones, we also are also literally paying for it all. This clever bit of photography – a pink purse meant to represent the labia, vulva and all that other fun stuff – asks us to think about the real price of menstruation.
Our society already exploits women’s bodies for its own needs and it’s important to shine a light on that. Many of these art works are likely to make you (or people around you) feel uncomfortable, and it’s time to start asking why.