The Rooster Has Crowed: Tampon as an Art Tool Part 1
Before I began to utilize tampons as a physical material, as seen in Does the Carpet Match the Drapes, I had a lot of questions and experimentation with tampons in general. At the beginning of my senior thesis year I was faced with this unusual freedom to choose, without guidance, what my work would consist of during the year that followed. After spending the last few years creating pieces about the themes I was concerned with as a budding feminist.
I felt overwhelmed by the complete freedom to choose my direction. I had also received one of the worst and most useful critiques from a professor who all but yawned as he informed me during our first week that my work looked like every other young girl my age. Determined to prove him wrong and prove to myself that this was the path for me, I searched for the next bit of inspiration that would propel me forward. I sat fiddling with things on my desk, one of which was a tampon that had fallen from my bag; I wondered what a tampon, such a rigid piece of bleached cotton, looked like inside the female body. So naturally I grab some water and dropped it in.
This didn’t satisfy my urge so I found some paint, soaked the tampon, and then pressed it carefully against a piece of cloth. What resulted, as you might imagine was not exactly what a tampon would look like inside a female body, but rather a very modulated, blotchy shape. Aesthetically the results from the tampon imprints were pleasing as I continued to make several swatches using different kinds of paints and colors, but the concept wasn’t there, I had to find a way to bring more meaning to this body of work than just the material.
I drew upon my favorite source of inspiration in order to create the resulting piece: my family. My maternal family is a Puerto Rican Matriarchy; the influence of such strong females has always been present in my work and remains a theme that I return to. We are a group of eight women and two young girls who grow off of one another though sometimes we create destruction within our own circle. Needless to say we are a force to be reckoned with and as far as representing the bonds with in our kin I have only reached the smallest peak.
With this in mind I created a system in which I would track the periods of seven of us: my mother, her two sisters, my two eldest cousins, my sister and my self. The tampon imprints themselves were not as reflective of bodies as I would hope. Rather, they were reflective of the way we systematically approach the happenings of the female reproductive system and its health needs.
For this chart, I recreated thirty-two years worth of my family’s menstrual history, connecting our selves and our cycles visually. Each mark represents one month’s cycle. Vertical columns represent two years and there are 24 horizontal markings that are representative of the month. Each addition of a color marks the month and year that another woman in the family joined the cycle, therefore the coloring gradually changes and the vertical columns become wider. The colors are based on the appearance of each member of the family their self.
As I continued this work I found myself laughing, imagining all of us dealing with pre-menstrual symptoms at once, wanting to kill each other at times but always being sure to provide good food and company along the way. I also burst into laughter as I remembered what my mother told me when I first got my period at thirteen. I walked up to her timidly unable to admit to her or myself the truth, she took it well and promptly informed me that, as in Puerto Rican tradition, she had to inform my Abuela that The Rooster Has Crowed. I’m sure I stared at her, mortified and slunk up the stairs to wallow in my misery while sipping a frozen a coffee drink from Dairy Queen and watching Lifetime. What I didn’t know then that I am grateful to know now is that having my period is not the end of the world, but the beginning of life, and without this life-giving cycle we would not exist. I also didn’t know that I wouldn’t have real cramps until I was twenty-three so I had nothing to be complaining about. But with this piece I unit our family in womanhood, in blood and in tradition. Most importantly I rid myself of any shame about menstruation for good.