By Deb A.
Chris Ofili is arguably best known for creating art with elephant dung. Andres Serrano's Piss Christ was made with the artist's urine. Tracy Emin's My Bed hosted a range of bodily fluids, including one that has recently made headlines again in the art world: menses.
The first major movement in the West of using or depicting menstrual blood in art started in the 1970s, along with second wave feminism. And so it is no surprise that recent efforts to address the period taboo coincide with a reaction to the rise of high-profile misogyny.
In 2015 Rupi Kaur's photo showing the artist with a bloodstain at her crotch was removed (and subsequently reinstated following public backlash) from Instagram, leading Ms. Kaur to object to a world that "will have my body in an underwear but not be okay with a small leak."
Six months later, American artist and activist Sarah Levy used her period blood to create a portrait of a presidential candidate who reacted to tough questions at a debate by claiming the female moderator had "blood coming out of her wherever". He is now president, and the painting was purchased this year by the Museum of Military History in Dresden, Germany. It's hard to say which fact is stranger.
The latest controversial attempt to normalise a regular function of the bodies of half of the earth's human population can be found in an equally surprising place: the Stockholm subway. Its new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is a series of black-and white felt pen drawings that feature the occasional blotch of bright red between women's legs. Some have hailed it as a coup for womankind, while others have recoiled in disgust, angry at their newly uncomfortable commute.
For those who prefer to decide when they will be confronted with the reality of women's reproductive cycles--a luxury most women do not have--there's Period Piece in London, which "seeks to provoke critical dialogue about shifts in contraceptive technologies and constructions of the 'natural' around women's bodies." With music composed from ovulation cycles and poetry based on reactions to the Catholic church's rejection of birth control in 1968, the exhibit finds new, less confrontational ways of talking about periods. It is a pop-up event by the Science Gallery London, which opens officially in 2018.
For a brief overview of period art, this piece by Kristen Cochrane is a good place to start.
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