My on-going series of paintings, Flow, which I began in May 2006, is a development of work done for my collection of poems, Days of Menstruation, published in 2004.
The poems, which eventually formed that collection, were the result of a long meditation on the meaning of femininity. I drew on my own experience as a woman, whose flow of blood islands her each month from the males around her. Yet my experience and the clarity it brought to the way I saw myself in my world, was also the experience of every woman born, and of no man whatsoever.
A woman's menstrual flow is so easily seen as a river of separation by men. They have traditionally interpreted it as a sign of our weakness, our uncleanliness, our humiliation. For that we have suffered purdah, and forms of imprisonment not only physical, but also mental. Only very recently, in some parts of the world, have we begun to break out of such confinement, but our liberation has, in truth, scarcely begun. Menstruation is a word, which can still, even in the year 2007, infuriate and disgust men who are considered by society at large as 'liberal', 'sensitive', 'educated'. Through images which the menstrual blood inspired and which it opened for me – because of its power, its pain, its refreshing flow – I tried in the poems of Days of Menstruation to offer for any woman reader an escape out of the mental cage in which we have all for so long been locked, and also to show all readers, female or male, the transformative qualities that I felt are present in the menstrual cycle.
Yet in the ancient traditions of India, the menstrual flow has not always been associated with female shame and oppression. The tantric tradition and its followers have long recognised and celebrated the flow of woman's blood as a symbol of immense power and mystery and in my new works I have consciously incorporated such positive aspects.
The Flow series takes the ideas from my poems and combines them with the paintings I have been making in the last four years. Each of these new works is painted using my own menstrual blood. I have thus drawn from my very core images of the world around me. I am 'trans creating' my inner self, at its most intensely female, into the sinews and muscles and rhythms of the world we all share, thus feminising it beyond the interpretive reach of the male. I have also shaped penises from my own blood, with a deliberate intention of imposing my creative dominance on this most widely worshipped symbol of male authority.
Female artists have already worked in the medium of their menstrual blood before; I am only giving my paintings a different form, may be. I am also mixing semen, another natural flow of men, into my blood – in a further exploration of the trans creative processes which so fascinate and empower me – the flow of male semen ejaculated specifically at my behest for me to paint with. That union of blood and semen is for me one of the few that approaches real gender equality.
I offer my Flow paintings to women everywhere – as tokens of our determination to gain a true and permanent liberation from our age-old confines.