These works subvert and challenge representations of menstruation in the media and popular culture by showing the ordinariness of this bodily function.

Menstrual artworks make the invisible visible. These artworks show us what taboo demands we hide and enable the realities of bleeding to be shared on a public platform. It is tempting to locate the power of menstrual art as a celebration of periods. But this superficial view can also contribute to maintaining rigid gender stereotypes and ideas about who has periods, rather than changing them, suggesting that the ability to menstruate is an essential part of being a woman.

Menstrual artworks have much more power if understood as being revelatory. They open spaces of resistance to expected norms and behaviours, revealing what is usually hidden. Artists working with periods present their blood, bodies, and experiences on their own terms, rather than those given to us by society.

Bee Hughes, Cycles, 2016-2017. Acrylic and menstrual fluid on hand stitched linen scrolls, installation size variable.
Bee Hughes, Cycles, 2016-2017. Acrylic and menstrual fluid on hand stitched linen scrolls, installation size variable.
Image: Bee Hughes

One of us—Bee—researches and creates artwork about menstruation. The work is informed by examining the language of online medical advice, such as that provided by the NHS. It also draws on personal experiences with a painful, inconsistent menstrual cycle. Cycles (2016-17) (pictured above) captures the idiosyncratic rhythm of the artist’s body, its shifting forms and bodily fluids. It is a document of a changing menstrual cycle. The work is a direct and public challenge to the stigma of menstruation as well as the notion that all periods conform to the medical textbooks.

Global art

Bee Hughes pictured with a prop menstrual pad.
Bee Hughes pictured with a prop menstrual pad.
Image: Author provided

Such art—that aims to challenge restrictions and to reframe discussions around menstruation—is found all over the world. Poulomi Basu’s A Ritual of Exile: Blood Speaks, for example, explores exclusionary rituals and practices in Nepal. She uses immersive virtual reality to evoke emotions and to turn audiences into activists.

Chilean artist Carina Ubeda, meanwhile, transformed her usually discarded bloodstained menstrual cloths into a visually arresting installation, Cloths (2013), which suggests themes of time, memory, and women’s work by including sewing materials.

Art plays an important role in promoting a radical alternative view of menstruation, which reflects the bloody realities of menstruation and presents a range of experiences. It’s important that space is created to show and share these responses to menstruation outside the polished, sanitised visual narratives of the menstrual product industry.

Bee Hughes is a PhD candidate in media, culture & communication and assistant lecturer in history of art & museum studies at Liverpool John Moores UniversityKay Standing is a reader in gender studies at Liverpool John Moores University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article. We welcome your comments at ideas.india@qz.com

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