Painting

Vagina Painting (1965) – Shigeko Kubota

Kubota’s Fluxus performance was performed at the Perpetual Fluxus festival in 1965. Upon dipping the paintbrush into a pale of red paint, meant to invoke menstrual blood, she crouched over large rolls of white paper spread out on the floor, and pushed down against the paper to make marks. Painting in a horizontal direction above the painting surface is a gesture to the eastern calligraphic tradition as the individual movements painted with the brush created red script-like marks on a crisp white background. Kristine Stiles asserts that Kubota’s performance “[r]edefined Action Painting according to the codes of female anatomy”1 insofar as Jackson Pollack can be considered to have ‘masturbated’ and ‘ejaculated’ paint upon horizontal un-stretched canvas. Vagina Painting makes a comment on the tradition of masculine Action Painting, by trespassing on patriarchal aesthetics.  Kubota’s spatial art practice is gestural and painterly and blurs the boundaries of masculinist approaches to artmaking. Vagina Painting is a cyclic expression of women’s difference that plays upon the semiotic between vagina as sexual organ and menstruation.

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‘Rachel Hides the Idols’

Tiepolo’s  fresco ‘Rachel Hides the Idols from her Father Laban’ (1726-1729) makes a direct reference to menstruation.  The painting depicts a passage from the Old Testament, “And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched but found not the images,” Genesis 31: 35.

To make up for the fact that she has no dowry, Rachel takes her fathers statues before she sets off to Cannan with her husband Jacob.  Laban, her father, catches up with them and demands his precious statues back, but Jacob is unaware of stolen idols.  In Tiepolo’s fresco, Rachel is depicted sitting on the saddle with the statues demanding that she cannot get up insofar as she is menstruating.  The biblical story infers that Rachel uses menstruation as away to deceive her father, and also her husband (by not telling Jacob she took the idols), which enforces the attitudinal tendency to see women as living in ‘original sin’.

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