Couples who come together to create art always hold a special place in my heart. There's something really nice about two people working together to create a work of art, with their creative ebbs and flows complimenting each other. When I learned about the Lewises and their artwork, I was even more impressed. This couple not only creates beautiful macro photographs, but with material that many people would consider beyond taboo.
If these red, alien landscapes and creatures look a bit like blood, that's because they are blood. Specifically, it's menstrual blood, and it comes from artist Jen Lewis herself. She never thought she'd work with this substance, but after switching from tampons to a silicone menstrual cup, she was surprised to find beauty in the blood it collected. From this inspiration, a project called Beauty in Blood was born.
For Lewis, there was also a political and social message behind the choice to use menstrual blood as art material. "It is deeply embedded in our global body politics and is a major contributor to the vast gender inequity between men and women today," she explains. "Institutionalized hierarchies maintain and support the outdated patriarchal belief that menstruation makes the female body inferior to the male body."
If that seems like an exaggeration to you, consider the fact that in the U.K. and Canada, feminine hygiene products are considered "luxury items," meaning that women on governmental assistance cannot purchase them on those countries' versions of food stamps. In countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sierra Leone, girls have no access to these products, resulting in their having to stay home during menstruation, missing valuable school time.
In more everyday terms, Lewis sees the double standard in the fact that TV shows, video games, and movies use blood and gore resulting from violence as a staple feature. Conversely, people recoil at the thought of blood stemming from a natural, healthy process.
Together, the Lewises are working to break down the barrier that prevents people -- men and women alike -- from talking about periods as a normal, healthy part of human existence. About once a month, Jen and her husband Rob set up a makeshift studio and snap photos of the blood as it flows though water. They shoot either by the toilet or in the kitchen, using an aquarium. For each shot, they experiment with different mixtures of salt and fresh water, different instruments for adding the blood to the water, so no two shots have the same effects and same results.
Rob's participation has also been important to the project. It has given Rob a special insight into the process of menstruation and the way it's seen by society. The project has also inspired the couple to talk openly about not only menstruation, but the female experience and the divide that can exist between genders, which has brought them closer together. For Rob, it's made him aware of how to open discussions on women, sexism, and gender to men, and how important it is to include men in these discussions.
You can see more of the Lewises' work on their website, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. In addition, Beauty in Blood is also going to have an art show called Widening the Cycle, which will be part of the Menstrual Health & Reproductive Justice Conference held in Boston this June.