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  • Jet van Groningen


Art has great power. If it is for yourself – to give way to emotions, to stir clear the waters of your intuitive wells of rubbish, to blow the fires of your anger up high in smoke to the universre. If it is for a public – to point out what stays otherwise unseen by masses, to bareface taboos in front of the mind’s eye of audiences, to help others to throw out what habitually stays in.

One of the last forms of art that got me chilled up and down my spine was ‘Ode to My Period Underwear’ from Olivia Gatwood. Her strong phrases diverging at the most sensitive parts by instinctively dropped silences. Her calender thickened by the heartworn themes, her youthglowing forehead embellished by the strenght of her intonation. In this spoken word piece she touches on a subject that is most often shunned – the blood that menstruators drip drip drop every month. If talked about menstruation, it is mostly ridiculed, masked, declined: an unstained parade of dreamed white underwear. Gatwood asks us if it is not the most beautiful advancement ‘for something to be good and than to become more good’ – more good when it is used up, crumpled down, stained out.

Admitted: I am already gripped by the wonders of our cyclic movements. I already washed myself of the taboos clinged to my bloodstained thighs. I already talk proudly of my blood, my clean-slate, my opening up, my turning inward. I am wondering – are there more artists who touch on this subject. I am doubting they will grow an immediate understanding in non-woke cyclic and non-cyclic beings, but I do know that every small step counts up. What are those steps that will be looked upon by my great granddaughters – looking back at a time when periods were still a taboo?

I am stunned at how many pieces of art I do find when I search for them. One of the keen examples is from the seventies: Red Flag by Judy Chicago - a litograph of a hand taking a bloodstained tampon out of her pussy. Isilumu Siyaluma by Zenele Muholi is a series of geometric figures, where the paint is made of menstrual blood. She wanted to point out both the secretiveness and the holiness of the period and its pains. Cloths by Carina Ubeda Chacana displays five years of her menstruationblood, pieces of cloths with her blood embroided-over with triggering words like ‘discarded’. The widespread freebleeding of Kiran Gandhi during the London Marathon touches me the most – because it was initially not meant as a piece of performance art, but it was born out of convenience. Her period started moments before the act of running – and when she realized a tampon would be in the way of a smooth runningflow, she decided to leave it out. In an interview with Vice Magazine she states: ‘If I wear all this stuff, it will be to follow a norm of society. It will be because I was supposed to pretend it doesn’t exist, and make sure other people are comfortable’.

Isilumu Siyaluma by Zenele Muholi

Lately there is also more attention for the fact that menstruators are not all women, and that not all women menstruate - like the images below from non profit organisation Trans End. Also more and more (but way too little) companies make use of esthetique to make sure the needs and preferences of all menstruators are met. The slogan of menstrual underwear brand Thinx is 'For People with Periods'. Gladrags makes sustainable friendly washable pads with a variety of patterns and none of the language they use makes assumption about the gender of their users. The book Period by Natalie Byrne uses inclusive language and images. Representation matters and making use of the insightful quality of sensitive branding and explanatory art can make a big difference. If no one shows you something is normal, you might feel very ashamed or abandoned.

ARTIST UNKNOWN TO ME, found on the instagram of Trans End

I remember my teenage discomfort while trying to unstick my menstrual cloth from my underwear without making that glue-on-fabric sound. I also remember an add I responded to when I was around nineteen years old – of an artist that would send white, lace dresses out to girls who wanted to contribute to her piece of art by freebleeding on the fabric. It attracted me, but when I received her email to confirm if I was in – I never responded. In looking back I feel both pain and pleasure. Pain because at the bottom of this declining was no disgust, but utter shame and slight non-understanding. Pleasure because it was this piece of art that introduced me, for the first time, to my period as something that could be marvelled at, shown in public, linked to something beautiful like a lace, frivollous dress.

I spread my arms, my ears, my soul to all the poetry, the stories, the blood, the pain – that is displayed by artists and brave ones that dare to swim against the streams of this blood-disgusted society. I spread my arms because I hope my future-children will never be afraid of asking someone for a menstrualcloth, never be laughing about someone who talks about her blood, never get sick of red-stained sheets. I hope they will be curious about the tides their bodies are riding on. I hope they will marvell just like I did when that artist spoke of ideas that were non-ordinary. I hope the pitch of their non-ordinary gutfeelings will be too loud to not listen too. I hope that the powerful messages in the menstrualart in the days before the light shone on their vivid faces, did their beautiful work. I hope that art did in this field what it is capable of doing: shedding light, ridicule taboos, reframe worn out stories. I hope that Chicago,Gatwood, Muholi, Chacana, Ghandi layed out a path where my children can walk on without bodyshame.

I hope they will be brave. I hope they shall feel safe.

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