Please tell me about a Red Tent.
In the native cultures of Africa, Asia, southern Europe and the Americas, the concept of a red tent, also known as a moon tent, was associated with an isolated space exclusively for women who celebrated their menstrual period. As a result of moon synchrony, all women of a given community had their periods at the same time, so they could jointly celebrate the power coming from them, which turned out to be the source of a huge social force. Depending on the culture, the red tent practices were different – sometimes related to dance and movement, sometimes more static, often, however, mystical and spiritual. It was believed that a menstrual period is a time of feeling greater and deeper connection not only to oneself, but also to one’s ancestors. This is why during this time women used to pray, meditate on their needs, and search for the solutions of problems, not only their own, but also, and often primarily, of the whole community. It was often a sacred time. Of course, in the patriarchal context, the red tent changed its meaning. We have found remarks about the Israelite tribe that sent women to a red tent not to search for solutions for the community, but because they were impure and could not be a part of the community. In today’s Pakistan, for example, we can find similar practices of separation – isolation of menstruating women.
What do you think, why did patriarchy change the context of a red tent so much?
Patriarchy changed the context of everything (laughing). According to many shamanic cultures, the time when a woman is menstruating is a time of a great female power. An enormously metaphysical experience that lets you move to another dimension and reap benefits directly from there. Today such perspective can be found among the New Spirituality teachers, e.g. Eckhart Tolle who, in his book, “The Power of Now”, is quite explicit in saying that a woman in the time of blood can have such contact with her body that allows her to enter the state of “no mind” easily – a path to enlightenment. As we can imagine, it is not a perspective patriarchy is likely to adopt. Anyway, the system does not have to do much anymore. Centuries of tradition have separated women from the cyclical nature of their bodies, and made period and menstrual blood taboo subjects. Usually women hide the fact that they menstruate, they do not like, and sometimes hate their periods. They treat it as a proverbial “necessary evil”, which is often associated mainly with pain and shame. The system has also “taken care of” the real contraception being solely a woman’s responsibility, and, even though it is indisputable that the pill can be seen in the aspect of a huge emancipation, it is hard not to notice that it separates the biological female body from its natural cyclicality, keeping it, often for years, in a state of pharmacological coma, so to say. When taking hormones, women do not experience periods, they have withdrawal bleeds. And they can stop having it altogether if they don’t take a break in taking hormones. Who sees period as a portal to enlightenment?
Why are you doing this? What “turns you on” about menstrual blood?
I like it about menstrual blood that I’m just running out of it. I’m at a premenopausal age and there is definitely more blood behind me than before. Relatively recently, however, I have started experiencing and perceiving it differently. I haven’t been enlightened yet (laughing), but with the practice of a deeper mindfulness at the time of menstruation, the experiences of my body can be incredibly liberating. In a way, I feel I have wasted that time when I didn’t do this, because I was not aware of so many things. I see it in a generational context as well, because my 14-year-old daughter has just started menstruating recently, and while her initiation process was affirmative, now the system is slowly killing that affirmation in her. It moves me greatly. When I think about such a separating experience for all the menstruating people, because, as we know, it is not only women’s experience, but also trans people’s, then I simply feel angry. Without even thinking about the metaphysical aspect, the fact that the experience of blood is an experience of half of one’s life, and remains a taboo subject for all of this time, is completely disintegrating too.
How did that taboo appear in our culture?
I’ve got a couple of leads. Some are more obvious, others less so. First of all, menstrual blood is part of what is considered feminine, and in our culture everything considered feminine is inferior and treated with distrust. In Judeo-Christianity, the foundations of our culture, period is associated with filth, impurity, and shame. Even the Bible mentions the impurity of menstruating women, impossibility of coming close to them in the time of blood, and rituals of cleansing after the menstrual period ends. Period constitutes itself on such a pattern. In our culture, in contrast to, for example, the culture of the Far East, all kinds of secretion are problematic. They are difficult on many levels. Blood is one of them. Menstrual blood is, however, special. In opposition to the blood of heroes, which is red and glorified in the public discourse, menstrual blood is presented as blue, and is particularly abjectal. Menstrual blood is also rationally problematic. I think in our culture we still carry the memory that it was difficult to explain the period rationally – and our culture is based primarily on reason. How to explain a voluntary monthly bleeding that is not a sign of illness, quite the opposite, it is a sign of health and the possibility of giving life. Since menstrual period is an uncomfortable subject and no one treats it seriously, half of the humanity who bleed every month also do not mention it, so that the other half could treat them with reverence and respect. There is still the matter of strength you mentioned once. The time before blood and the time of blood are considered as the time of a woman’s weakness, indisposition and hormonal imbalance. Especially in the feminist circles there is no approval for nor space to let oneself be so “weak” in a constant fight with patriarchy.
What do you do in your “Exercises in Bleeding”?
I would like every menstruating person to experience enlightenment! (laughing). Of course, I’m joking, although I would really like to, but I know that it is not possible at the moment. “Exercises in bleeding” are a safe space for mutual (co)education about the integral part of the menstruating people’s identities. In principle they are a space for talking about blood freely, where every story is welcome and will be heard. A word, as we know, is powerful, and if we break the code of silence surrounding menstrual blood, the energy in the subject will certainly rise. During the workshop I invite everyone to create a circle, meditate together, share their blood story and weave this story manually – so that it can be linked with another story, and another, and another, creating a collective blood story: a Red Tent, which is going to be an artistic installation in the end, built from blood artefacts and collective energy of people who created them.
Iza Moczarna-Pasiek – artist and feminist. In her projects she fights against stereotypical perception of femininity. She shows the areas of femininity hidden behind the veil of taboos built by the Polish religion and culture. She believes that femininity is beautiful in its nature, regardless of the form it takes, and that life manifests itself in many ways and each of them is worthy of attention and respect. She is the author of the first Polish Amazon (women with breast cancer) Calendar 2005, in which women pose for nudes after the mastectomy; the project Cut, in which models are bald women; Pride Venus-Sketches, where large women undress in front of the camera; Siren of Singing, where she explores women’s old age, and many others. Her works are shown both in Poland and abroad.
Zofia Reznik – art researcher, curator, cultural producer and academic teacher. She specialises in contemporary art, herstories, oral history and artistic research; graduated from MISH University of Wrocław and studied at the postgraduate Gender Studies IBL PAN. She is preparing her doctorate under the supervision of Prof. Anna Markowska at the University of Wrocław and is carrying out a research project “The Art of Wroclaw’s women artists of the 1970s in the light of their micronarrations” as part of the NCN grant. Associated with the Kariatyd Collective and the Dolphin Gang, and earlier with the Falanster Collective. She runs the Wersja (Variation) Foundation and works at the Academy of Fine Arts in Wrocław.