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Meet the artist breaking taboos around menstruation

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On Menstrual Hygiene Day (28th May), Zebra One Gallery is holding an exhibition that aims to break the taboos that surround menstruation and all things period related. 

Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf is an artist whose art focuses mainly on women and the female experience. Her new exhibition, in honour of Menstrual Hygiene Day, is entitled Daughters of Medusa. Rebecca talks to us about everything from breaking menstrual taboos to studying art at university.

Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf // Image courtesy of The Cult PR

A history of art...

Artist Rebecca has always had a love for art, and studied it at university; "I studied for my BA at the university for the creative arts in Farnham, and then did my MFA at Wimbledon College of Art almost a decade later."

Her passion started in her childhood, growing up around art and creative people. "It [art] was definitely one of my main passions growing up; my mother is an artist too," she says. "I always knew I was going to do something creative professionally, but to be honest I wasn’t quite sure what exactly that was going to be until after I completed my studies in Fine Art at BA level. It was only after the course was over that I really realised I wanted to dedicate myself to my art full time."

The meaning behind Medusa...

Rebecca's new exhibition is called The Daughters of Medusa, referencing the famously a greek monster whose hair was made of venomous snakes. Why did Rebecca choose to honour Medusa in particular through her art? 

She says: "Medusa is one of the oldest stories representing woman as the other. She becomes a symbol for womanhood in itself; a dual image, beautiful and pure on the one side and monstrous on the other. Remember that Medusa was a beautiful virgin priestess before being tuned into this monster we now think of her has, all because she was raped by Poseidon. 

"She is one of the few mythological figures who still endures, and everyone recognises the image of the woman with serpents for hair and the deadly gaze. This image of Medusa is one we've carried with us for millennia and continues to shape our views of womanhood. She is inextricably linked with fertility and menstruation; the inherent ability to hold the cycle of life and death within oneself."

'There was blood coming out of her eyes'. Art by Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf // Image courtesy of The Cult PR

The Female Gaze...

Medusa is a story that details the power of the female gaze. Is it important to Rebecca that her art is very much from a female perspective?

"It’s inevitable that my perspective is that of the female gaze as my work comes from a very personal place. Over the years I’ve realised that this is an important aspect of what I do, one which I now consciously use, as I think it’s very important to have women represented by each other."

Women and the female experience are a big theme in her work, but this wasn't a conscious decision - it happened much more organically; "Since childhood, I always painted and drew women and female characters. It’s what I’ve always been naturally inclined towards choosing as a subject matter. The conscious decision has been to find out more about this inclination. To try and discover where it comes and connect it to a broader framework such as mythology and archetypes. For me the female form is a vehicle through which to explore ideas around mortality and desire; around what it means to be a mortal human, and for me that comes from a female perspective."

Menstruation...

What gave Rebecca the idea to take menstruation and turn it into art?

"As is the case with any new idea I have for a body of work, several things often seem to happen synchronistically which plant the seeds of an idea, before it really develops into a proper concept."

The idea actually came about accidentally after comments Rebecca received at one of her previous exhibitions. Shre says: "In this case I had been working with Greek mythology on a previous series, and created a painting of Aphrodite/Venus, whose lower body was covered in a wash of red paint. When I exhibited the piece I had a few comments about it being ‘too menstrual’ which I found interesting, especially as Venus is a goddess of desire, sexuality and fertility. Blood is a natural part of this, and I found it interesting that this element still posed a problem for people in the here and now."

'Venus Rising'. Art by Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf // Image courtesy of The Cult PR

This piqued Rebecca's intrigue and her further research cemented her interest in the topic of menstruation:  "I then also read a BBC article about discussions that had been had on social media during Ramadan last year, where Muslim women were talking about the taboo around speaking of their menstruation during Ramadan (if you have your period during Ramadan you’re not meant to fast). For many, it was a taboo to let the men in their family know they weren’t fasting because they had their periods and had to eat in secret or lie about their reasons for eating if caught.

"To top it off I had a conversation with a friend about her daughter who was approaching puberty and was worried about the changes which were going to happen in her body, which took me back to the very negative feelings I had when I first got my period. These events all made me think about menstruation and why t is still such a taboo subject when it’s a reality for half of the world's population. But more than that, why it’s still such a taboo when fertility and pregnancy aren’t, and even strangers will feel quite comfortable confronting women over 30 about their plans to bear children."

Giving back...

One of the aims of the exhibition is to raise money for Bloody Good Period - a charity that aims to end menstrual poverty across the world. How did Rebecca get involved with this particular exhibition and the Bloody Good Period charity?

"The exhibition is one I’ve been working on with Zebra One Gallery and developed from Gabrielle du Ploy and myself speaking about these subject matters," she says. "I had been working around this subject on a previous series and Gabrielle had been wanting to create a show around women's bodies, breaking these ridiculous taboos we still face, and so it all started coming together. The Charity connection is down to Gabrielle, and I’m really happy that we’ve made this connection and can contribute to making a positive change in vulnerable women’s lives."

'The Gorgon's Head'. Art by Rebecca Fontaine-Wolf // Image courtesy of The Cult PR

Breaking the taboos...

Menstruation is still (ridiculously) a taboo subject, so how does Rebecca think we should go about opening up the conversation?

"Things like this exhibition, this interview, and generally just speaking about it more openly as women amongst ourselves, but also not shying away from speaking about it with men. In my experience with the work so far, I’ve found that most men are totally fine speaking about periods once the topic is broached. After all, it not something that only affects women. All men have women in their lives, whether these are mothers, girlfriends, wives, friends, daughters or colleagues; they experience it in some way too. Most of the time it’s just an awkward subject for them to speak about because they’re taught that it’s awkward and just don’t know very much about the subject.

"One of the things I feel really strongly about is changing the negativity attached to the subject, especially for young girls who are experiencing their first period. How do we expect women to have a positive relationship to their body when their first experience of womanhood, an experience which really should be celebrated as a rite of passage, is presented to them as something inconvenient at best and shameful at worst. I’m all for parents finding ways of celebrating this time with their daughters and presenting it as something magical and important."

The Daughters of Medusa Exhibition will be unveiled by Zebra One Gallery at Old Street Gallery in London. For more information visit their website.

Lead image courtesy of The Cult PR




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