Menstrual Blood as Art: Why is it So Scandalous? ~ Courtney Miller

Via on Jun 30, 2013
Úbeda’s Cloths on display at a museum in Chile
Úbeda’s Cloths

Last week, Chilean artist Carina Úbeda unveiled Cloths, an art exhibition comprised of five years’ worth of her own used menstrual cloths. The cloths are interspersed with dangling apples meant to symbolize Úbeda’s ovulation.

Unsurprisingly, the mainstream reaction on the internet has been mainly one of shock and disgust. A lot of people are criticizing the display as filthy and unhygienic; others are outraged that a woman’s menstrual blood could ever be considered a subject for art. Some are saying the exhibit is a crock of feminist nonsense and that the artist is just trying to get attention through shock value.

But before we analyze these reactions, let’s back up a second.

The use of menstrual blood in art is nothing new. Judy Chicago’s Red Flag (1971) depicts a woman’s hand removing a bloody tampon from her vagina, and Chicago’s Menstruation Bathroom (1972) features a spotless, white bathroom strewn with used menstrual products. Menstrual art even has its own term now—Menstrala. Artist Vanessa Tiegs, who coined the term, has been creating paintings with her own menstrual blood for years.

But, despite the fact that menstrual blood has been used in art for decades, menstrual art is still considered repulsive and appalling by the mainstream. What’s interesting is that works of art that incorporate other bodily fluids haven’t produced anywhere near the visceral response that menstrual art has. Take Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings (1978), in which Warhol’s friends urinated on canvases covered in metallic paint, or Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (1961), in which Manzoni filled 90 tin cans with – you guessed it – his own feces. The exhibits produced a fair amount of shock, but the reactions to both died down pretty quickly. (Fun fact—Manzoni’s cans of shit are now worth €100,000 each).

So why is the response to menstrual art so negative and so strong?

Regarding Menstruation Bathroom, Judy Chicago said, “However we feel about our own menstruation is how we feel about seeing its image in front of us.”

Judging by the reaction of the general public, it would appear that most of us (females, anyway) are grossed out and uncomfortable with our own periods. And really, why wouldn’t we be? Our culture teaches us that menstruation is dirty, that it’s something to be embarrassed about. In no way is menstruation honored or celebrated as it was in ancient cultures that revered the fertility of the woman as much as the fertility of the land. Instead, we’re made to think that menstruation is an icky, unfortunate fact of life—one that females should acknowledge as little as possible, and one that males should pretend doesn’t exist.

But maybe that’s what menstrual art is all about: forcing us to acknowledge that menstruation does exist.

Maybe it’s supposed to help us remember that periods aren’t weird or embarrassing, but rather a natural process that’s part of being female. Maybe you could even say that menstrual art is a political statement—that it’s an affirmation of women’s bodies in a world that in many ways still regards those bodies as inferior.

Maybe. You can interpret it however you want. That’s what art is about, isn’t it?

Still, I found the following quote pretty poignant. A woman—who viewed Úbeda’s exhibit—commented:

“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.”

What do you think?

Courtney MillerCourtney Miller is a free-spirited adventurer who has decided to settle down in Boulder for a bit before setting off around the world again. She loves nature, QiGong and other wellness practices as much as she loves music festivals and never knowing what to expect from one day to the next, and she accepts that her life is usually full of contradictions. She’s all about women’s reproductive freedom, and is madly in love with the Fertility Awareness Method of natural birth control (learn about it at kindara.com)!

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Ed: Dejah Beauchamp/Kate Bartolotta

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5 Responses to “Menstrual Blood as Art: Why is it So Scandalous? ~ Courtney Miller”

  1. Jonathan Waller says:

    Perhaps the reaction is negative, because it is another artist coming up with some pretentious arty farty load of nonsense…
    Wrapping it up with thoughts about how it makes people think about this or that is delusion. it's done to shock. What next? Perhaps I could collect 5 years worth of used toilet paper, symbolising the waste of society and the impact of human effluent on nature?
    Or I could collect all my used condoms over a period of time to symbolise my protest against the Catholic churches stance of contraception…
    Maybe next time a friend is changing their babies nappy They should instead start collecting them and make an exhibit out of them?
    Of when the baby goes through the phase of playing with it's effluent we should give it some paper to rub it on, then get it up in a gallery.
    The concept that for something to be art it need only to challenge us and make us think, has opened the door to people coming up with some outrageous idea calling it art and achieving some notoriety in the "art world" which is something akin to the land of the Emperors new clothes where everyone goes along with things because they don't want to seem out of touch with the higher realms of understanding.
    The thing is I could probably do all those things I mentioned calling myself an artist and some one would lord me as challenging our existing dogma or some such. If some did it otherwise you'd probably call their friends and family and suggest a visit to a shrink, but as soon as we say it …."ITS ART" then it's ok and we should all nod wisely and with appreciation
    People can come up with these nonsense ideas but then they should expect people to call them on it , and at the end of the day , some blood on a cloth is just that,some blood on a cloth and pretentious tosh it pretentious tosh!

  2. I don't think it's especially gross, but I question its artistic merit. I wouldn't pay for shit in a can either. My father always told me that art provides us what life does not. I have blood and shit of my own. (if anyone's interested in purchasing any of it, let me know. :) )

  3. Mango says:

    “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.” – Male blood is something I wouldn't really want to see pointed on cloth either, so this isn't poignant. The female body stops feeding the cells and flushes them from the body because they are no longer of use. Why should this be celebrated any more than any other of the great miracles and mysteries of the human organism and it's astouding capacity to live, breathe, have the capacity for intelligence? I also disagree that female blood is considered shamful. If a woman does something brave and her blood is shed, she is just as brave and worthy of respect as any man who does the same. The blood of a man is not by it's nature worthy of any type of reverence just because it is spilled. There are people who disagree, but heck with them. Prove them wrong by living the difference. They'll get over it, or they won't.

  4. willi says:

    This is a link to an interview with an artist who creates work from her menstrual blood: http://www.yoniexpress.com/beauty-in-blood/

  5. Grace says:

    Eww…gross! It could be worse, though. I mean at least she didn’t get famous for eating her own tampon like Giovanna Plowman.

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