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These Artists Use Menstrual Blood In Their Work

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Rupi Kaur
You might recall last March, a little bit of a kerfuffle happened on Instagram. It wasn’t about #freethenipple, or the latest Kardashian selfie, but it was, once again, to do with a female user on the platform.

Rupi Kaur, a Canadian student and artist, had uploaded a photograph of herself lying on her bed. Instagram promptly removed it stating that the image went against community guidelines. Why? Because there was visible menstrual blood on her trousers and bed.

“As a part of my final project for my visual rhetoric course I created this image to demystify the period and make something that is innate "normal" again,” she wrote in the accompanying post.

She went on to attack Instagram for allowing “countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human.”

Despite removing the image not once but twice, Instagram eventually backed down and restored the picture after a huge outcry.

Using menstrual blood in art certainly has the ability to shock but is it any different from other artists who use bodily fluids in their work? Why are pieces such as Marc Quinn’s “Self”, which used ten pints of his own blood to make a cast of his head, embraced by the art world but an artist such as Carina Úbeda, who uses her own menstrual blood, is accused of being sensationalist?

The Chilean artist saved five year’s worth of her own blood for her piece “Cloths” and hung the soiled rags which were embroidered with words such as “destroyed”.
Again, people found it difficult to deal with. Many thought that the exhibition, held at the Centre of Culture and Health in Chile’s Quillota in 2013, to be “filthy” and “disgusting”.

However, one visitor of the exhibition, Silvana Sáez, told the Daily Mail: “Male blood is celebrated for being brave while ours is a shame. This won't change until we release our body as the first stage of political struggle, repression and male power of centuries.”

Using menstrual blood in art is certainly a political statement. But artist Sarah Levy took the idea to a whole other level when she painted a portrait of Donald Trump with her menstrual blood last September. Calling it “Whatever”, the piece was a response to remarks that the Republican hopeful had made about TV presenter Megyn Kelly after she hosted a debate. He said of her: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever.”
Levy told USA Today: “I was outraged that he was basically using women’s periods not just to avoid a political question but also to insult her and all women’s intelligence.”

Elsewhere, menstrual blood is used because it can, in all honesty, look quite beautiful. For her project “Beauty In Blood”, Denver-based feminist artist Jen Lewis collects her menstrual blood before drizzling it down a clean toilet bowl to render interesting designs. Her husband then photographs the swirling red.

The final images are captivating. In her artistic statement, Lewis insists she makes this work because, “Institutionalised hierarchies maintain and support the outdated patriarchal belief that menstruation makes the female body inferior to the male body.” Here, the blood isn’t "disgusting" or “gross”. It becomes a thing of beauty.
And men are getting involved too (albeit by using different tools). Anonymous Middle Eastern artist Saint Hoax added menstrual blood to Disney princesses after a friend told him a story about being rejected by a man after she suddenly came on her period during a first date. "Girls get their period once a month. Sometimes it gets messy. Get over it," he writes on his website.

As people become more relaxed about talking about menstruation, and myths and taboos are shattered, expect more of this pioneering art to appear. Whether you find it aesthetically pleasing or not, it certainly succeeds in starting a conversation.

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