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Period-Themed Art Exhibition Wants Society to Rethink Menstruation, Period.

Elyssa Goodman

Can an art exhibition help remove the stigmas surrounding monthly bleeding?

A thick stripe of syrupy, dense crimson drips down glass, its image juxtaposed in reflection on an adjacent surface. Bubbles populate the top of glass while the red ooze loosens in color and texture at the bottom. There's something ominous about it, this ooze so thick it might be blood. And then you realize that it is.

The work, Meeting, by Jen Lewis, is an image taken of the artist's own menstrual blood, fresh and immersed in salt water. Lewis manipulates the the blood with a variety of implements to create swirling, almost lava lamp-like movement then photographs it as part of her series Beauty in Blood. Four images from this series are in the new exhibition, Period., currently on display at the Rojas + Rubensteen Projects gallery.

Louisa Fairclough, Bristol, UK. Bore Song (detail), 16mm film. (2011) Courtesy Danielle Arnaud. Photo: Joe Plommer. All photos courtesy of Rojas + Rubensteen Projects. Lead image: Jen Lewis, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Meeting, February 2013, Digital Photograph (Menstrual fluid in salt water and fresh water). 

With this exhibition, gallery owners and curators Eira Rojas and Aimee Rubensteen wanted to develop a conversation around not just menstruation but the role time—as in a period of time—plays in a woman's life. "We tried to curate an exhibition that was not simply about menstruation as a taboo topic or as a topic that's not talked about enough but experienced by many, and really think about time, and a period is a moment of time marking different events in your life or in someone's life," Rubensteen says. 

Jen Lewis, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Knees Up, 2013. Digital Photograph (Menstrual fluid in salt water and fresh water)

The show features work that both directly and indirectly addresses menstruation. For example, while the exhibition includes Lewis's aforementioned work, it also shares a mixed media installation by artist Sonia Baez-Hernandez called Reconstruction II, which was made to acknowledge the impact of breast cancer on the artist's life. It features a bra that hangs from a sculpture and is decorated on the cups with hair the artist lost as a result of cancer treatment. It's a time in the artist's life when she also lost her period. It's pieces like this that make the exhibition's title work not just in theory, but in practice.

Elinor Carucci, New York, NY. Menstrual Period, 2000. Chromogenic Print.

By developing this show, Rojas and Rubensteen hope to develop a platform for discussion around what, for many, is a very difficult topic. "There's really something to be said about encouraging people to talk about something that it seems like they might want to talk about if they were able to or if they were given permission to," Rubensteen says. At the very least it's something artists are itching to discuss: Rojas and Rubensteen didn't commission work for the show, but rather included work that already existed. "There are plenty of artists creating work about their own experiences and getting your period or not getting your period or waiting for your period is part of the artist process," Rubensteen says.

Elinor Carucci, New York, NY. Feet Moving on Bed, 1999, Chromogenic Print

For the artists in Period., and also for Rojas and Rubensteen themselves, there's a difference between privacy and what they feel is patriarchy-induced stigma. "I just think, what if everyone has their period? Then it wouldn't be a secret, right? Like, who are we keeping our periods private from?" Rojas says. By opening the doors to an oft-hidden topic with their exhibition, perhaps Rojas and Rubensteen can take a step in removing that stigma altogether.

Sonia Baez-Hernandez, Miami, Florida. Reconstruction II, 2002, Mixed Media Installation Courtesy Rojas + Rubensteen Projects

Mierle Laderman Ukeles, New York, NY. Mikva Dreams – A Performance, 1978 Text and photograph on three pages of paper.

Andrea Nhuch, Miami, FL. Foreverness: Madalena, 2014. Inflatable plastic, Miami air, resin, auto paint, wood.

Mierle Ukeles Laderman, Mikva Dreams, 1977/2001. Digital pigment print on premium paper.

Emily Gui, San Francisco, CA. How I Got Here, 2012-2017. Cyanotypes and mixed media.

Elinor Carucci, New York, NY. My mother's back, 1996. Chromogenic Print.

Andrea Nhuch, Miami, FL. Foreverness: Search, 2014. Inflatable plastic, Miami air, resin, canvas.

Period. is on view at Rojas + Rubensteen Projects through June 15, 2017. Learn more about the exhibition here.

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