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Sunday, Aug 30, 2020 13:45 [IST]

Last Update: Sunday, Aug 30, 2020 08:20 [IST]

Menstruating art – Menstrala


   Menstrala is a word coined by American artist, Vanessa Tiegs, to name her collection of 88 paintings made of menstrual blood.
   This art movement had started even before it was termed. In 1970s, a  feminist artist, Judy Chicago, had made works like Red Flag, a photolithograph of the artist removing a bloodied tampon from her vagina and menstruation bathroom, which featured an all white bathroom installation accentuated by a mountain of pads above an overflowing waste bin of used tampons. In 1972, Carolee Schneemann recorded her cycle using tissue paper blotted with her blood and named is Blood work diary.
   Menstruation has been stigmatised globally in some way or the other. Most girls dread their periods starting and some are not even taught about it. In India, menstruating females have to face many difficulties and are subjected to various cultural practices. They are not allowed to offer prayers, take part in religious events, cook or even enter the kitchen. In extreme cases, they are isolated from their families. In a village in Maharashtra, there exist huts called gaokars where girls and women are banished during menstruation.
   Purity and impurity of a menstruating female has always been a controversial topic. Mary Doughlas, in her theory of Purity and Danger, had discussed the concept of dirt and impurity as rejected elements of the ordered system. Why is the purity of a female body being put to question and compared to dirt? It is as normal as any other body fluid like sweat, saliva or tears.
   In 2019, Anish Kapoor, a British-Indian artist, had paintings evoking menstrual blood in his show in Lisson Gallery in London. This gesture undoubtedly shows that the world is changing. There has always been a subtle relationship between art and revolution. With the world busy dividing itself on the basis of economic, social, religious and nationality aspects, art brings about a sense of unity and renaissance.
 Even in the midst of the impurity hypothesis, Kamakhya temple in Assam celebrates the menstruation of the goddess,and menarche is celebrated with feast and festivities as a mark of fertility of the female in Tamil Nadu. It is even considered sacred to offer menstrual blood to the goddess in Tantric practices.
   The bright red colour of the flowing blood signifies the continuity of the race. Scientifically, it is the inner lining of the uterus being shed off due to missed fertilization which comes out through the vagina as bloody discharge. It is a physiological process which occurs every month in all females within the reproductive age group. The idea of treating menstruation as a hush-hush affair has taken the form of embarrassment among females. The stigmas create a negative impact on their health, sexuality, well-being and social status. It induces a feeling of being betrayed by their bodies. Females especially those belonging to rural areas or from an economically weak background cannot speak up about this issue and end up using unhygenic means to cover the blood which makes them susceptible to infections. The lack of awareness, openness and acceptance only creates more taboos.
     Menstrual arts create awareness in a unique way to stop the culture of menstrual shame and concealment. Such arts challenge restrictions, discriminatory practices all over the world and reframes discussions around menstruation.
(The writer is a final year MBBS student of SMIMS, Gangtok)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi