In the September of 2015, Portland artist Sarah Levy released a revolutionary piece of art that caused global uproar: a period blood painting of Donald Trump mid-sentence. Comically titled “Whatever,” the piece was created in response to Trump’s comments about journalist Megyn Kelly. (“You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her whatever,” he had stated.) Needless to say, Levy’s artwork stirred up the important conversation about menstruation and its connotations in contemporary society.
“I was outraged that he was basically using women’s periods not just to avoid a political question but also to insult her and all women’s intelligence,” she said when asked about her piece. And so, she took matters into her own hands, subverting the disgust he hoped to inspire in his audiences to spur a moment of humour and acceptance instead.
For years now, artists have been using period art, or menstrala, to achieve the same effect that Levy did. From paintings, to photos, to installations, period blood has become a transformative medium through which to destigmatize the natural process of menstruation and dissolve the taboo that surrounds it. Turning social discomfort and shame into celebration, period pieces like Judy Chicago’s “Red Flag” from 1971 or Jen Lewis’ “Beauty in Blood” contemporary photo series help menstruators find the courage to empower themselves. These pieces help them diffuse the internalised embarrassment of menstruation and battle the many myths they confront on a daily basis.
Though the genre has been widely misunderstood and, on many occasions, met with repulsion, it is undeniable just how influential menstrual art can be. Whether it is by shocking mass audiences or comforting menstruators, period blood artists continue to fight the stigma and normalise menstruation through their work. Additionally, these pieces inform viewers that periods can be beautiful enough to be art – that they do not have to be hidden away or kept secret like society has conditioned many to believe.
In a world that glorifies the idea of womanhood but not its “nasty” details, it is imperative to find outlets that rejoice in the whole reality of being a menstruator. Menstruation art is, then, simultaneously a safe space for menstruators and equally a place to shake up and disrupt the status quo. Powerful and authentic to the menstrual experience, menstrala is a way to guide the dialogue forward.