"The Guilt" is an auto-ethnographic three series video compilation on a personal reflection of a divorce. A not too commonly talked about theme, yet a life experience that is an epistemology of numerous people. Pallavi Govindnathan's current exploration on Art Based Research methods (ABR) as a tool for reaching out to more people through art and social media is a way to create emphasis on axiology within artistic research methods/ approaches. "The Guilt" is based upon Pallavi's current reflections on how the end of her marriage consisted of feeding herself a sense of guilt for not being the "wife" she was expected to be. Having been called "selfish" by many for being a woman with a drive to progress, or being called "blind" for devoting too much time and determination on her own professional work, or being titled as " irresponsible" by many for not being self-sufficient and working minor low paid jobs and choosing to put most effort and care into personal research and professional goals. These are blames that come to so many women (and people in general) in different forms of guilt. This guilt shatters the lives of many, however through the use of art as a form of therapy and a close study of personal reflections Pallavi has created "The Guilt" to overcome the trauma and empower herself and others.
A practice known as Menhag in Orthodox Judaism, upon getting the first period, a young girl is slapped on the face by her mother to ward off evil from her body. As there is no documentation of this practice in the Torah, many people are uncertain of the origins of this practice, and its importance. However, tradition, like any other, is passed down through various ways, and in this case through the oral tradition from one mother to her daughter. A practice not disputed by many, Menhag continues to be practices in various families, traumatizing young girls not only from the failure to understand why they are bleeding but also to cast an opinion of shame and guilt to their natural bodily cycle.
Nepal's living goddess, Kumari is selected every few years. Knows as the virgin goddess, she is celebrated by both Hindus and Buddhists for her purity and virginity. Though scriptures claim her existence since the 13th century, its believed the Kumari has been celebrated ever since the 6th century. When the goddess reaches puberty and menstruates, it is believed Goddess Durga vacates her body leaving her to her mortal self in pain and suffering. Hence another infant who acquires all 32 perfections is chosen as the next Kumari. The young goddesses are isolated and revealed to the public 3 times a year. They are treated divinely for their childhood years and discarded as their periods arrive. They have difficulties adjusting back into society due to former isolation and many fables and legends claim that a man who wishes to marry her later, is cursed with a death wish. This video is a critique on social structures and norms created by men in claims on 'tradition'. Its a critique on gender discrimination, and childhood trauma practiced in the name of religion, tradition, and virginity as purity.
A personal fear of menstruation, Menstrual Hide exposes the urgent need to hide any form of menstrual evidence. Inspired by Judy Chicago’s, Womanhouse, the act clearly portrays the persistent need to always hide the act of menstruating. From concealing the pad within layered rolls of toilet paper, and often times the original pad wrapping, to disposing off the trash every few hours, leaving the trash empty and clean with no traces of any sensory evidence. However unlike Judy Chicago’s unveiling, here, the act of unveiling occurs through the video projection, although revealing what happens in over 80% of American homes, where overt 85% of American women suffer from PMS and over 50% of them are subjected to some form of anxiety related to their periods. Studied carefully, Menstrual Hide is not merely an attempt in showcasing the act of hiding, but processing further problems with our social upbringing and learned practices.
Inspired by the stories of a cousin residing in the urban capital of New Delhi, India, a tremendous fear and shame resides in many women of acquiring feminine products from stores, as most sales clerks in Indian pharmacies, and shopping stores are men. A lack of women workers in the market industry along with the cultural and religious taboos inflicted upon women since childhood, results in many women using home made/ discarded garments as feminine care products. Though a practice often used by women in the past, a lack of absorbancy and cleanliness often resulted and continues to result in many women suffering from chronic genital infections, escalating the fear further of shame and the feeling of being unclean. Menstrual Wash depicts this act, escalating the notion of humiliation and fear through the depictions of chemical cleaning products such as bleach, which historically also have been highly criticized by many feminists, and scientists due to the use of such products in almost all contemporary feminine care products such as pads and tampons, insinuating that purity is defined by white clean pads/ cloth, whereas blood remains a natural bodily fluid that is to be impure and polluting.
Inspired by the 70's slogan "The Personal is Political" and Chantal Akerman's 1975 film "Jeanne Dielman 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles", Menstrual Baking is a portrayal of time and labor intensive daily routines that are often times left unappreciated and forgotten by others not involved in the labor of daily production. Part of the "Menstrual Series" videos, Menstrual Baking is an enactment of a Finnish legend applied to women on their menstrual cycle, claiming that bread baked during a woman's period is left to not rise and be impure for consumption. The series are a means of breaking such legendary tales, taboos and restrictions that are placed on women due to their natural bodily right/ act to menstruate.
Ancient practices in Japan continue to be reinforced by older women to the younger generations, and Menstrual Filth explains one such tabooed practice. It is strictly believed till today in many conservative families, that women remain highly unclean during their menstrual days. Hence enforcements and restrictions are cast over many women, having them to endure further labor and humiliation through demanding them to wash their closthes separately from the remaining family’s laundry. And even when washed, for the wet clothes of the woman to not drip water on the other’s clothes, they are to be hung on the bottom of all clothing racks, eliminating the chances of the clean clothes from soiling and contaminating. Menstrual Filth depicts the unnecessary labor a woman has to endure, all due to oral traditions claiming her unclean nature of existence.
Inspired by my mother’s story, menstrual Pickle remains one of the few videos within the series challenging the woman to also break the existing taboos related with menstruation within that society. In northern rural India, my mother along with her several younger sisters were prohibited from using the same utensils and consuming the same food as the rest of the family due to their sacrilegious connotation/ affiliation. Along with women not being able to cook food, women most of all were not allowed to make pickle, due to it being a form of preservation while menstrual blood being perceived as a pollutant. Menstrual Pickle, originally started as part performance and part video projection for the audience. The performative element consisted of feeding the audience the same pickle prepared in the video while allowing them to watch an act that seems terrifyingly unclean.
9. Menstrual Pray
Faith and desires often collide resulting in serious emotional and mental pressure. They both remain elements of natural conditions of existence. Women who practice faith in any religion are often taught to believe in what their faith proclaims- though there is a lack of understanding that all religions oral or written are determined and dictated by men and their desires. Showcasing a lack of importance put on women’s desired, during their most fragile emotional and physical state of being for a few days, to eliminate the desire to read the Koran, which though means to provide emotional serenity, often hightens women’s fragility. Menstrual Pray remains another video created to break the historical restrictions/ taboos. Here depicted is a grown woman performing the namaz (prayer) while menstruating.
Truncated within every society lay a marginalized class of people who’s reflections of treatment and ideologies are in scripted by a populous majority. These indoctrinations are propelled through history and cultural manifestations that create strong barriers between what is ethical and immoral, and what is acceptable and what needs to be reevaluated. “Menstrual Pollution” a video part of the larger series of 12 videos: Menstrual Diaries, brings forth one such historical cultural ideology from ancient China, where a menstruating woman’s shadow is to be avoided by men due to its impure manifestations. The curse of the pollutant shadow lies amongst various other societies such as the Dalits (untouchable caste) in India. Though existing within an historical outline, a menstruating woman continues to be of a profane existence than a sacred being.
Upon asking 5 American women the same question, “What are the most prominent restrictions that apply in your life when it comes to menstruation?” they replied with similar anxieties, “SEX”. All claiming they would not engage in any or minimal sexual activity when on their periods. When asked “why?”, their responses lay singular to societally driven claims of women being unclean during those few days, hence to be avoided. Though all coming from well educated families and upbringing, and of varying age groups, they all accompany the same fear. This small study, challenged to make this video Menstrual Mate, as a response to breaking this restriction that lies in the minds of many women. With the rise of the menstrual porn industry, and as porn industry largely diverted by men for a male audience, the sense of discomfort is escalated upon women, as menstruation and sexuality is not addressed openly enough in even our most progressive societies.
Menstrual Slut, originally a documentation of a live performance done as part of an experimentation on a 'derive'- a walk from home to the opening reception at the Performance Art Institute. Menstrual Slut was inspired by a woman who, when asked "Would you approach a woman who is walking with a visible menstrual stain on her back"?, she replied, "I would not say anything, due to her being a slut. For a grown woman to not realize that she is menstruating, she must have a huge vagina, and in order to have that she would have to be a Slut". The work attempts to question the definition of the word SLUT and how its interpreted differently in different cultures. And why is a woman's neglect, or misdoing, often leading to a critique on her sexuality? Such questions are embedded in history, and today's norms and values are a product of what History has taught us. These videos, that portray what would be referred to as signs of an impure, unclean woman, are all trained thoughts and learnings from a patriarchal definition.
A young girl gets her first period in a small Pygmy village in The Republic of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo until 1997). Her mother collects other elderly women who gather the child and isolate her within a “menstruation hut” or the “red hut”. The child is sung the traditional songs known as Elema, where the elders explain to the bleeding child of the journey from childhood to womanhood. Rarely is there any reference to any explanations of questioning the tradition, of isolation. Hence leaving the child to live in complete isolation for 7 days, along with a void in explaining her natural bodily condition of bleeding- further traumatizing the girl. Isolation induces a sense of committing “wrong” within the child’s mind, hence misconstruing the reality of menstruation and the natural bodily cycle. Practiced till today in several tribes, isolation remains a right of passage, a practice of cruelty similar to female and male genital mutilation and body mutilation.