There’s a lot of blood depicted in art. Bloody wars, people being decapitated, people being stabbed, you know, the usual fine art topics. However, you usually don’t find menstrual blood on the walls of the Louvre. But guess what? Menstrual blood is definitely being put on display by artists worldwide.
Many people have an instinctive negative reaction to just the idea of menstrual blood, or even just the idea of someone on their period posing for a photo. Remember when Instagram originally removed this now well known image posted by Rupi Kaur?
They later allowed it back on, due to the understandable backlash.
Some folks would say that it’s not that there’s anything wrong with menstruation itself, it’s just that they prefer their art to not be “political”. That’s an interesting train of thought, because it means that they mean having a period is political.
I have a couple responses.
First, I WISH menstruation wasn’t considered “political”.
It’s a totally regular body function that half of the world’s population experiences. If menstruation were actually as normalized as it should be, and if there weren’t so many different levels of shame associated with it and the bodies of people who menstruate, I would argue that menstruation is actually not political at all. It’s just there.
Making art about menstruation is one of the ways in which we can normalize it. It allows people to see a reflection of themselves through someone else’s eyes and feel less shame. It also (ideally) allows folks who don’t menstruate to maybe understand it and sympathise a little bit more. Art can help us unpack loaded or taboo subjects; periods are ready for the palette.
We have to talk about it, or nothing will change. The only way to solve issues like period poverty is to make noise about them, but it’s a bit of a hard topic to discuss if we can’t even begin to get past the fact that people have periods on the regular.
Second, I hate to break it to you, but art is kind of inherently political.
It’s political because of who’s historically been allowed to make art, what subjects they’ve been allowed to cover, and how we’re allowed to engage with it. If you’ve never considered how art can be political, except for when it depicts some sort of “feminist agenda”, it might be good to ask yourself why? Oftentimes, your ability to “not ever get political” might be due to the fact that your privilege shields you from needing to.
It’s political because when you study art, the vast majority of the artists featured in many history books are typically men. Genres are defined by the same group of people throughout history, and the “defining” artists from each generation tend to look pretty similar as well.
Art is a universal language, so of course it’s political.
When folks are busy trying to silence vulnerable populations, or gate-keep creative mediums, engaging in an art form previously dominated by white men is an inherently political act, an act of strength and resistance. You don’t need a degree to “get” art, despite what some people would have you believe. Art is inherently subjective, and it can connect with people in a way that words just can’t.
So without further ado, here are some great artists that feature menstruation in their work.
Ellie Kramer makes gorgeous, visceral depictions of what it’s like to live with endometriosis.
Natalie Byrne wrote Period, and periodically (hah) posts illustrations about menstruation (and other feminist things!)
Sarah Naqvi has previously done amazing work using embroidery to depit menstrual blood, and is currently the Artist in resistance at De Ateliers.
Cassie Blue uses her menstrual blood as paint! There are a few artists doing this, perhaps the most notable instance being this portrait of Donald Trump, painted by Sarah Levy. Another artist Zoe James used her work to raise awareness over the cost of menstruation and period poverty.
Erin Blowers has great images depicting menstruation in people of all genders, as well as excellent reminders to check your breasts regularly for breast cancer!
In finishing up this blog post, I came across the news that The Accessory Junkie has partnered with Period to launch the Nadya earrings, and proceeds of the first 100 pairs will go towards supporting 1500 menstrual cycles around the world!
One small sign that we’ll be close to normalizing discussion around menstruation is when we can wander into a museum gallery filled with images of menstruation & menstrual blood and have it just be another exhibit.
Just a regular wing that you make your way through on a big museum crawl. With art students practising their sketches, and parents wrangling their kids who got hit by a wall of boredom the second they realized there was no kids-only playroom and they were going to spend hours having to keep their voices down. An exhibit like any other, where folks do that trick of trying to look for the artist’s signature in the piece they’re staring at in order to make it seem (to the casual observer) like they are truly immersed in the artwork itself. I’m looking forward to that day, because it might mean that we’ve put periods in their place - as part of what it means to be human.
Featured Image: Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614