Jennifer Weigel is an American “multi-disciplinary, mixed media artist” who makes art using her own crimson wave, urine and toenail clippings. Her previous work consists of pressing her bloody vagina onto watercolour paper, and her most recent piece is a self-portrait painted with her menstrual blood. Ick!
They may just seem like gross pieces of fish-smelling, dried blood to you, but they actually mean a lot more. They intend to break down the stigma attached to menstruation so that women everywhere can rejoice in their ruined panties and depravity of sex instead of resent it, and the developing of the artwork over time represents a woman’s changing body.
I gave Jennifer a ring to find out why she really felt the need to do this and what she’ll do when she no longer leaks this disease from between her legs.
Thought Catalog: Hi Jennifer. Why do you focus on menstruation throughout much of your work?
Jennifer Weigel: Much of my work is provocative. I generally strive to use my art as a means of starting conversation and promoting thought, especially in regards to questioning taboos and social norms, and to encourage myself and others to think outside the box. I guess I just like to rock the boat. I explore a lot of feminist themes pertaining to gender identity and cultural expectations. I first became interested in menstruation because it is such a big part of adult life, for both women and the men that interact with them, and yet it is rarely discussed openly. Perhaps it is perceived as improper, shamed, or simply seen as a private matter, but it is something that we all experience on some level or another on a regular basis. I do believe that the stigmatisation is changing and has been for some time; the taboo itself is being challenged, and I am grateful for the opportunity to explore this through my art.
TC: Would you ever use any other body fluids in your art?
JW: I have explored many bodily media, collecting detritus of my physical being such as hair, toenail clippings, dead skin and anything else that conveyed a sense of relic, assertion of my own being, the effects of time on the living, and/or the ephemeral nature of this existence. I’ve used my own saliva and even created a self-portrait in watercolor incorporating my own urine in lieu of water, among some other alternative self-portraits.
I have also used numerous alternative media outside of my own body, including used motor oil, grass staining and rust. I firmly believe that some artworks can have a greater impact and significance because of what they are comprised of.
The menstrual blood is especially “charged” though. There is something inherently special about it because of the taboo surrounding the substance and because of its natural sense of sacredness. When I first began exploring the topic of menstruation, I used red acrylic paint to signify blood, but the impact wasn’t the same and it felt less genuine to me. It seemed more natural to use menstrual blood as a further means of commentary, especially once I started using a menstrual cup and was able to collect it. I am naturally very full of creative energy when on my period, as are many other women, and so it made even more sense once the material was readily available. In fact, several women have used their collected menstrual blood to make art, reflecting on their natural cycles in blood moon paintings.
TC: I imagine you’ve had a lot of criticism for your creations?
JW: It has been varied. A lot of people don’t seem to know exactly what to make of the menstruation art, but that holds true of much of my art in general. Few people ever confront me personally, and I often find out about such comments secondhand or much later on. When I first showed artworks incorporating my menstrual blood, a lot of people sought them out after overhearing snippets of other conversations about them, and several let me know that those particular pieces had made a huge impression because they had required a lot of time to take in and think about, even months and years later after the art exhibit had come and gone. I still have this happen frequently in regards to the pieces I first exhibited over more than five years ago. The biggest challenges I’ve faced have been in finding venues to exhibit those artworks in the first place, because of the inherent risk and uncertainty regarding how that art will be received and because it isn’t commercially-viable.
TC: How did you produce your most recent piece, The Goddess Within?
JW: The main painting or icon is comprised of my own menstrual blood suspended in clear acrylic medium to preserve it and retain color. It had to be built up in very thin layers over the course of time, much like an oil painting. If the layers were applied over one another while still wet or tacky to the touch, the blood would pool and clot from one layer to the next, as is evident in the background. I think there are three to five distinct layers in the figure and even more in the background, which I wanted to be thick with blood. I spent the course of a week working on this, building up the applications, and by the end the blood was becoming fairly ripe.
Other materials were incorporated to add to the sense of relic and spirituality and to enhance the feeling that the figure is celebrated as a goddess. I used hand-blown glass, semi-precious stones and pewter beads to create a spillage from one corner of the frame to convey blood in a way that makes it seem both sacred and valuable. The shelf included in the installation includes a relic antique box containing a hand-cast paper mask form with silver enamel paint, faux insects (real ones deteriorate and lose color rapidly), candles and a rubber fetus. The rubber fetus has become a recurring symbol of potential fertility and motherhood in several of my menstruation artworks because it is, by its own nature, another “charged” object, in part due to the history of the objects as propaganda distributed by pro-life advocates to women seeking services from clinics that provide abortions. I try to neither promote nor dissuade this symbolism but to explore other responses.
TC: What’s the meaning behind it?
JW: I was honored to be invited to participate in the Moon Goddess Exhibit and I knew immediately that I wanted to create a menstrual artwork to explore the connection between the lunar cycle and menstruation, encouraging women to explore their own inner strength, mystery and their own internal goddesses. The artwork reflects on the sacred spiritual mystery surrounding menstruation and celebrates the divine that dwells within the women’s ability to nurture and bring forth new life rather than shrouding it in secret shame. The portrait is actually based on a self-portrait photograph that I shot specifically for this purpose. I posed in a gray wig, exploring the symbolism of the maiden, the mother and the crone. The face is obscured so that the figure becomes mysterious and comes to represent every woman. As soon as an eye or a glimpse of a profile is spotted, many people have a tendency to want to identify the subject as someone in particular – “Oh, she looks like my aunt Bess” – and I wanted to avoid that sense of representation or specific identity.
TC: Will your menstrual art come to an end once you reach the menopause?
JW: I doubt that I will cease making artworks about menstruation, since not all of my artworks that touch on the theme contain actual blood. I curated a show called Life Blood Exhibit about female reproductive health a while back, and several of the older women I invited explored medical complications and related procedures, menopause, their daughters’ maturing into grown women and having children of their own, and more global considerations in regards to social consciousness. I imagine that I will still have plenty to say about that experience, especially regarding how we perceive women and aging and any health complications that might arise.