via Enjoy Journal | Bloody Women Artists by Ruth Green-Cole.
While there are isolated cases of reverence for menstruation, in general, many societies impose a strict set of rules about the visualisation of menstrual blood in art and visual culture. The hegemonic and patriarchal codes controlling the discussion and visualisation of menstruation have been formed over long periods of time by various traditional communities, Orthodox religious authorities and the patriarchal medical gaze. Ultimately, these views have been internalised by millions of women worldwide as both negative and shameful. Over time, menstruation has developed a fraught and complicated semiotic,1 one further influenced by the role of the vagina as a sex organ; concerning reproduction, and the censorship involved in exposing body parts. This raises the question, if menstruation happened in another part of the body, one that is not associated with intercourse, would it have the same stigma? In the same way, the continuous concealment of the reproductive body from society (the practice of menstrual etiquette, a homebound pregnant women and the sexualised breast) has created the false assumption that a leaky body is unnatural, and that when it is concealed, the body is acting normally.2
Luce Irigaray has observed “[f]luids are implicitly associated with femininity, maternity, menstruation and the body. Fluids are subordinated to that which is concrete and solid.”3 Therefore, the body is something that should be controlled to enable a prescribed representation of self-identity. In particular, menstruation has been codified as an uncontrollable bodily function that needs to be organised, managed and contained. Hence the cyclic continuation of performative acts to create the appearance of a ‘natural’ state. Judith Butler explains, “gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender and without those acts there would be no gender at all. Gender is thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis.”4 To understand menstruation as gendered blood is to recognise the ritualisation of difference through cleansing practices, psychoanalytic classifying and other constructs that affect the position of women.
During the early sixties, some years before the growth of an organised feminist movement in the visual arts, Fluxus artists Shigeko Kubota and Carolee Schneemann positioned their bodies in, and as, their art. They employed the modernist language of abstract expressionism, but in contrast to its patriarchal expectations. These artists were “interested in debunking or overthrowing modernism because of its supposedly reactionary desire to ensure artist presence”5 and its dismissal of body art projects. The female artist’s body became a gesturing, expressive body, a mode of projecting non-conformity, suffering, activism and excess “as a way of laying claim to ‘being’ itself.”6 As Kubota said in her Video Poem(1968-76), “I, a woman, feel, ‘I Bleed, therefore I am’.”7
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