What is Period Art?
With a title like that, it’s hard not to be curious. Period art doesn’t sound like something you would expect to be a thing, but it is a fairly recent trend designed to break down the stigma related to periods. Historically, people who menstruate have been taught to hide their cycle; hide when they’ve leaked, or even when they bring a tampon or pad to the bathroom. Unfortunately, this creates a cycle and lasting association of shame. Period art seeks to eradicate that shame, normalize periods, and period blood.
What is Sloughing?
The menstrual cycle is the process of shedding the uterine lining, dead tissue is cast off from the endometrium, which is what a period actually is. All of the dead cells are removed in a bloody discharge, which is why we protect ourselves and our clothes with menstrual products. Sloughing is a natural part of the menstrual cycle and has been reclaimed as a way to make something beautiful from what has been considered disgusting and shameful.
There are many forms of period artwork. Because so much can be sloughed off during your period, menstrual artists have plenty to work with and every piece is unique. While some use the blood as paint, others free bleed and allow their blood to make patterns.
The Instagram account @menstrugram documents photography of menstrual blood artwork. This Berlin artist takes submissions from people all over the world intending to normalize menstrual bleeding. Everyone who has a period can make art like this, submitting your bloody artwork is a form of solidarity.
Artists from all over the world have been doing work with their menstrual blood to help impact the stigma surrounding period blood. One artist Sarah Levy from Portland even used her menstrual blood to create a political piece, a less than flattering depiction of Donald Trump as a response to his stance on reproductive healthcare. A few women from the Buzzfeed group Ladylike also spent an afternoon making menstrual art to help bring it into the mainstream.
While it isn’t considered practical to paint with period blood, it is cathartic. It can be hard to bypass what you’ve been taught your entire life, many consider periods to be dirty and prefer that they stay hidden, but actively using period blood as an artform shows solidarity and can end up feeling empowering. By taking something so stigmatized, and even politicized, and turning it into a piece of art, you take back the power. Period art is a strong response to a complicated problem utilizing a truly fascinating medium.
Art has always been a way for people to bring up uncomfortable subjects. The experience of going through your menstrual cycle is universal, so why do we still treat it like it is taboo? By exposing it in this way, using the actual blood as art, it makes it impossible for people to ignore it. In that way, it not only lightens the subject, but it opens up a conversation.