Posted by: Micah Dornfeld

The relationship between blood and paint is not novel. Oxblood, a pigment whose namesake reflects its origins, came from mixing linseed oil with cow blood to create a durable and sealed paint. The deep rich burgundy color, red with tones of brown and purple, is a popular fall fashion hue, but is most recognizable along countryside roads where farmers brewed this paint to cover barn exteriors. Create your own oxblood paint using a recipe found here, just stop by your local slaughterhouse to get the ingredients.

Blood has taken a new significance in contemporary art, specifically the use of menstrual blood to create poignant messages of female empowerment. Where blood is traditionally a symbol for male victory, take Hercules, the more bloodshed the greater his strength; for women is a symbol of weakness and embarrassment. As Judy Chicago says regarding the matter: “Menstruation is something woman either hide, are very matter-of-fact about, or are ashamed of.”

Menstrala is the name of the movement where menstrual blood is used as paint and in doing so, reclaiming a woman’s cycle as something visible and creative. It takes a variety of forms.

Vanessa Tiegs, the artist who coined the neologism, proposes that menstruation is shunned by the patriarchy because it is the embodiment of female immortality, the ability to bleed and not die. Collecting her blood for three years Tiegs has created 88 dynamic works sealing her self-made paint with acrylic gloss to keep its vibrant red color.

Carina Úbeda is a Chilean woman who also creates with her menstrual blood. In 2013 the artist put up the exhibit Cloths made up of five years of stained sanitary clothes framed in embroidery hoops. Stitched onto the clothes in Spanish were words like “production,” “destroyed,” and “discard.” Rotting apples hung from the ceiling symbolizing ovulation.

Most recently a painter from Portland caused quite a stir with her blood red portrait of Donald Trump. Sparked by his sexist remarks to reporter Megyn Kelly, claiming she must have been on her period, Sarah Levy depicted the republican presidential candidate in mid sentence. In using menstrual blood, Levy forces the male chauvinist to acknowledge the biological beauties womanhood.

These examples of Menstrala make public the often private and intimate relationship of a woman and her cycle. They reject the idea that this act of nature, designed to bring life into the world, is disgusting or filthy, adjectives that are commonly to describe menstruation.

Of course menstruation has a long history with women artists. In the craze of Jackson Pollack’s action painting, Helen Frankenthaler created distinctly soft and womanly “stains,” which undoubtedly alluded to menstruation. This categorizing by critic Clemet Greenberg boxed Frankenthaler into being solely a woman artist unable to compete with the her strong male counterparts. Here, the connection to menstruation narrowly defined Frankenthaler, a concept that Menstrala reclaims as powerful.

This discussion of Menstrala would not be complete without the mention of Judy Chicago’s piece Menstruation Bathroom in the historic Womanhouse (1972).  This feminist icon undeniably influenced Menstrala. In Menstruation Bathroom Chicago puts the commonly hidden tampon remains on display forcing both women and men alike to confront the tradition covering up menstruation. In this vein, Menstrala continues to make female blood visible and beautiful.

“Cloths” by Carina Úbeda. Centro de Promoción, Chile, 2013.
Whatever, Sarah Levy, 2015. Painting of Donald Trump, menstrual blood on paper
Mountains and Sea, Helen Frankenthaler. 1952. Oil and charcoal on unprimed canvas. 219.4 cm x 297.8 cm. Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.
Menstruation Bathroom, Judy Chicago in Womanhouse, Los Angeles 1972.

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