Works created with menstrual blood. Various techniques, supports and dimensions.
August 2018, Amed prison
Today is a “disgusting” day.
The calendar shows a disgusting day. A warm day, buried in the womb of History, suspended above, anesthesizing the brain at each turn, with its constant mechanical sound…
The guard half-opens the door and calls out “Let Zehra Doğan come, the chief guard wants to speak to her”. Asking myself “what crime have I committed this time? Which drawing did they find problematic again?” I walk out the door, with Meral the representative of our quarter. The chief guard was waiting in the hallway. He started speaking with a relatively polite attitude, saying “I don’t know how to say this…”, “don’t mind me, please excuse me, but apparently you are making drawings with blood, is this true?” He asked with patriarchal embarrassment. On his own, he was censoring the word “menstrual” and settling on the word “blood”.
I then answered the man, adopting a posture showing there was nothing in need of being excused or resented, “Yes.”. “Don’t do it, he said, the prison staff is disgusted and they are afraid of catching germs.” The guard who was with him confirmed “yes, it’s disgusting”. This unexpected obstacle caught me unprepared.
As the owner of this disgusting business, with a sense of responsibility, I answered him as quick as a flash: “Disgusting? The fact we are unjustly kept imprisoned here, and as if that was not enough, the fact that as an artist, the supplies I need for my art are forbidden, are already disgusting facts. What I’m subjected to is disgusting. I can only raise a protest against this disgusting state of affairs through something socially perceived as disgusting. A thing considered disgusting by the patriarchal mentality. Which is to say, menstrual blood. In order to define disgust experienced daily, that which is truly disgusting, I can only use something that you consider disgusting, the blood from my periods. If you are disgusted, that means I achieved my objective.”
I would have liked to explain to them that menstrual blood was considered as sacred in History, that there was nothing disgusting or germ-laden about it, that it was used by some aboriginal or tribal people to heal wounds, but I myself did not have the strength for that, nor they, the patience to listen.
Seeing my determination, the chief guard transformed the matter into an issue of conscience. “If you had a conscience, you wouldn’t do things that disgust people and that might infect them. Myself, were I to touch it, I wouldn’t leave my bathroom for the whole day,” he told me.
I closed the topic by telling him: “It would be a fine thing if the issue of conscience were a reciprocal matter. And also, if you could consult your conscience for not providing me with painting supplies and forbidding me their access in an arbitrary fashion. But it’s not a reciprocal matter of conscience. Conscience cannot function conditionally, only that which exists sees the light of day.”
The fact they tell me all this shows that I won a long time ago. The vanquished one is always in a begging position toward the victor. So I am the one who is the stronger. I thus have in my hands a power and they do not know what to make of it, when confronted with it. They end up clinging to conscience and attempt to stop me. I know what conscience is, thanks to the struggle in which I believe. What is left to us is to listen to the voice of conscience. And as always, I add, my conscience. And my conscience tells me “carry on with your art, no matter what happens, keep on drawing and telling”. I listen, and I decide once again, to carry on.
This is what it means, being a woman in the patriarchal system. For the past five thousand years, we have been cursed, considered as disgusting. This is an imperative of monotheistic religions, this cursing of the seed from which it comes, the ovaries…In Judaism, among others, when a woman has her period, she must not touch anything, eat in a different plate, sleep in another bed, and even to avoid the loss of abundance to the household, she is put outside the house. Someone who touches her is considered soiled. At the end of her period, she washes, washes her clothes, breaks the plate and after making offerings, returns to the house. In Islam, things are no different. The woman who has her period cannot pray, bow down, fast. She cannot enter the mosque. The foods she cooks cannot be eaten, the ones she touches are spoiled. Judaism, Christianity, Islam, such is the hostility of patriarchal religion toward women. It’s about locking up, cursing.
This is how I found the way to face all of this. I wanted all the patriarchal ones to feel this, that they be disgusted by the disgusting woman.
Imagine a deputy, an elected woman in prison…For a second time, Leyla Güven is a candidate at the election. As a journalist, I would like to write on her electoral work. In prison, photos are forbidden. So I would like to draw, but there is no paper. So I draw on the torn wrapping papers used for lemons. In your opinion, just this one prohibition, that there is not one scrap of drawing paper, is that not in itself a disgusting situation?
Briefly stated, consider for yourself: what is disgusting, my drawings or my daily life?
Translation by Lucie Bourges
Denizde bir gün (A day at the sea) 3 & 4
21 x 30 cm. On paper menstrual blood, paint stolen from prison storage. 2018, Diyarbakır Prison.
Untitled 1 & 2
21 x 30 cm. On paper menstrual blood, paint stolen from prison storage. 2018, Diyarbakır Prison
(Gallery on progress)