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April 30, 2012 | by  | in Arts Visual Arts | [ssba]

Reimagining Menstruation

Ever since Leviticus taught us that a menstruating woman contaminates everything that she touches, periods have been getting a bad rap as ‘impure’ or ‘filthy’. Luckily, in the wake of the Woman’s Rights Movement, the notion of menstrual taboo began to be redressed and menses became a symbol of female oppression. Period blood subsequently became a powerful medium in feminist art, spawning a genre called ‘Mensala’.

One such example is Ingrid Berthon- Moine’s 2009 photographic series Red is the Colour, in which twelve women are depicted wearing their menstrual blood as lipstick. The photographs call on their viewers to question the socially constructed view that menstruation ought to be a private ordeal.

Berthon-Moine drew inspiration for the project by comparing modern Western behaviour to that of ancient Austrian tribes, many of which venerated their monthly blood by smearing it around mouths—arguably making lipstick one of the world’s first cosmetics.

The artist pokes fun at the cosmetics industry by identifying each of her models with names given to actual lipsticks like ‘Rouge Pur’, ‘Red Temptation’ and ‘Forbidden Red’. These titles eroticise the ‘feminine mystique’, using it as a marketing ploy. The juxtaposition between sexualised marketing and a supposedly vulgar substance raises questions about what aspects of femininity are deemed presentable and why.

Berthorn-Moine lampoons this unnecessary secrecy further by presenting menses as an integral part of every woman’s life. Each portrait follows the conventions of a passport photo, symbolising menarche, a kind of passport that signals the journey towards feminine maturity.

Inevitably, many forms of Mensala are dismissed as shock-mongering and indecent, often highlighting how relevant the menstrual taboo still is. Red is the Colour, while undeniably provocative is, is in no way transgressive or culturally polluting. The work is forward-looking; it asks people to consider the feminine reality in a far more direct way than they are used to and stimulates cultural evolution.


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