This poet and photographer reframes periods to be a celebration of life rather than just another embarrassing day where you had to dry your cargo pants in a Dyson AirBlade.
There’s a party in Rupi Kaur’s pants, and you’re all invited. Yep, it happens once a month and it is a jamboree down there. It’s the fountain of life. A miracle of biology. She’s riding the cotton pony, aka has got her period, and Kaur wants everyone to embrace it. Celebrate it. Stand by the bowl of Doritos and really talk about it. The Canadian poet, artist and photographer became the subject of an online controversy earlier this year when she uploaded an image depicting a woman with a menstrual leak from her photo series ‘period.’ to Instagram and had it removed from her page – twice – by Instagram censors. She received a message to tell her that she had not followed the community guidelines. Those guidelines prohibit sexual acts, organised crime, hate groups, violence and nudity. Where did a woman’s period fit into that? Kaur’s response was moving: “I will not apologise for not feeding the ego and pride of misogynist society that will have my body in an [sic] underwear but not be ok with a small leak when your pages are filled with countless photos/accounts where women (so many who are underage) are objectified, pornified, and treated less than human… I bleed each month to help make humankind a possibility. My womb is home to the divine. A source of life for our species. Whether I choose to create or not. But very few times it is seen that way… We menstruate and they see it as dirty. Attention seeking. Sick. A burden. As if this process is less natural than breathing. As if it is not a bridge between this universe and the last. As if this process is not love. Labour. Life. Selfless and strikingly beautiful.” After Kaur’s words and the image went viral, Instagram unblocked Kaur’s photo and apologised for the mistake. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? My name is Rupi Kaur and I am 22 years old. My aunt, my mum’s youngest sister named me. Rupi means ‘goddess of beauty’ and Kaur means ‘always pure’. I was born in Punjab, a state in north-west India, and my mother and I immigrated to Canada when I was three. What were you like as a kid? I was the most quiet, sensitive, and emotional child you would have ever met. I cried all the time. I was timid and always full of fear. I was always so deeply affected by the things people said and did. You could begin to taunt me and I’d be broken. I began thinking of loneliness and death at this young age. I don’t know why that is. I think it comes from leaving everything you know as a child, leaving behind all your loved ones to come to a country of strangers, and never seeing a warm and familiar face again. It was a big adjustment. What did you want to be then? I wanted to be an astronaut. And that’s ironic to me because I hate science and the only reason I wanted to be an astronaut was because I had this itch for adventure, that was always what I was reading about. I read so much. Because I was quiet and too timid to share my thoughts with people, I shared my time with books and blank pages, where I would draw and paint. My mum’s a painter and so she taught me some of the visual arts. When and why did you shoot the ‘period.’ photo series? I’d been meaning to shoot that series for the past year now but I never really got the chance to do it; there were more pressing projects to complete. But in January 2015, I began my final visual rhetoric course at school. The major project was an assignment intended to start a critical conversation with the use of images rather than words. And so as soon as my professor began explaining the project I knew exactly what my topic would be. Having to do this assignment for school was my excuse to finally execute the ‘period.’ photoshoot.
Right away my sister Prabh and I went into shooting. Over a period of two days, and maybe four to five hours of work, we had a series of six images that encapsulated the intimate relationship, or the intimate experience many women share with their periods. The idea of waking up and having it surprise them while in bed. Then going to wash up in the shower, sitting on the toilet and wrapping your napkin or tampon to throw it out, and then resting for the remainder of the day or washing the sheets. Very ritualistic and traditional experiences for a woman. I knew the images were going to be jarring, and so I wanted to balance the content with blue and yellow tones. This softened the images and gave them a lighter feel. I also purposely made them grainy to provide a more intimate and warm feel. The art of photography is just as important as the content.
I wanted to demystify society’s ideas of the period, and show that we are disgusted by something so strikingly normal, so strikingly universal, while being so accepting of images of women being objectified and overly sexualised. I’ve always been attracted to feminine issues. Being a woman is something that’s very important to me, and so my experiences as a woman do push my work. Every month when I get my period, I am literally dying. It is so wretchedly painful and I find myself cursing the damn thing. But it’s been a year now where in the middle of my cursing and screaming and crying out in pain, I tell myself, I really, really need to come to peace with this thing. I need to find a way