Name: Freya-Marie Port
Art Form: Craft
Description: Her work explores patriarchal value systems by embellishing feminine hygiene products
Website: click here.
The Project: Making a difference through art
B: So, what’s “Decor’s” about?
F: “Decors” is my art project that explores patriarchal value systems and menstrual taboo by way of embellishing feminine hygiene products. I add jewels, ribbons, I’ve even made sets and turned them into jewellery. By changing their functionality this way, they’re aggressively rendered useless. They serve better as display-case jewels or trinkets, helping them to live up to their ridiculous government classification of “luxury items” – although my art is quite painful to imagine using. Whilst I was putting together “Decors”, I produced a site-specific installation at the Russell Cotes Museum & Art Gallery using my work for a group exhibition named ‘Sugar-Cotes’. My elegant tampons were displayed in a cabinet alongside the trinkets and jewels that belonged to Annie Russell-Cotes, the wife of Merton Russell-Cotes who owned the house. Since the trinkets within the display cabinet were belonging to Annie, a lady who lived in the Victorian era, I created a sense of irony through my work – during this era of history, menstruation was a lady’s private shame that was not acknowledged nor discussed in society. Making the feminine hygiene products appear jewel-like was also inspired by the Victorian décor within the house, adding a commentary on ornaments as a predominantly ‘feminine’ culture.
B: What drew you to create work in response to menstrual taboos?
F: Somehow, I always end up covering feminism or stereotypically “women’s art”! The fact that female artists in the second wave were doing what I’m doing now and yet it’s still an issue is astonishing. Judy Chicago for example, explored menstrual taboo by creating an installation called “Menstruation Bathroom” (1995) in a bid to gain acknowledgement in society for menstruation as a natural part of existence rather than a women’s shame, yet tampons are still classed as a luxury item twenty-two years after her work! The more recent influences in my research I would have to say would be Kiran Gandi, a Harvard graduate and drummer who ran the London marathon whilst ‘free bleeding’ (which means without the use of sanitary products) to raise money for those without access to sanitary products. The images of her running are pretty powerful, especially since the media coverage that went along with them still harboured such a negative response despite the fact that a) Gandi’s act was for charity and b) this has been a natural part of our lives since the beginning.
I focused on finding ways to explore my topic without being literal because sometimes people don’t always respond in the most open way to something that’s so upfront and graphic. I knew I couldn’t be literal if I was to make my work stick for anybody like Trump. By the time I’d played around with metallic colours to allude to the idea of “luxury”, I felt like work about the tampon tax was utterly unavoidable. I investigated current articles about young girls in Leeds who are unable to afford sanitary products, meaning that they aren’t going to school for the duration of their periods because of the shame surrounding the issue. I do believe that tampons and pads should be provided at all schools and educational facilities as they are a necessity and since menstruation is a natural part of life. It’s not optional so the necessity for products should not be debatable, let alone shameable. Why do we still live in a world where items as essential as sanitary products are considered luxury? Yet if we go without we are shamed? I wanted my ideas to have multiple layers of different critiques. I find it’s important to have a more personal approach to tackling social issues, this way the work is emotionally informed. That said, I still wanted the work to be accessible to everyone. By embellishing the objects I was able to present them to a wider audience at the Russell-Cotes (mainly the local and elderly) in a way which was not aggressively confrontational, just implied indirectly by way of the individual’s imagination. I wanted to make people question why these products are not considered necessary when products such as viagra and jaffa cakes are tax-free!
B: Where do you want to go from here with “Decors”?
F: Well, in my opinion, no body of work can ever be completely finished, especially when it focuses on social issues. That being said, if I could add to the “Sugar-Cotes” exhibition, I would have liked to have continued by using wallpaper, not only would it have linked in with the Victorian house we were exhibiting in and the idea of decorative items as something traditionally female but I could go back over and play with the level of functionality in the tampons. At the start, I transformed applicator tampons and initially, people thought they were cigars and candles! I’ve had some funny comments on my Instagram, “I’d use them but they’d cost half my life savings”. “Decors” has definitely received a lot of positive feedback, humour is always the safest place to explore topics that people tend to find uncomfortable.
The Inspiration: Making a difference through art
B: So, how do you get started with putting together a project like “Decors”?
F: I am constantly coming up with new ideas and projects in my head, so I am often jotting these down in reflective journals or my iPhone notes. Often, I’m inspired by what’s going on in the media, current issues within contemporary society that deserve more questioning than they get! In terms of art theory, I tend to come back to “One Dimensional Women” by Nina Power and “Ways Of Seeing” by John Berger – they have been a huge inspiration for previous investigations into feminist art and the perspective of the female body. Gu Wenda’s “2000 Natural Deaths” (1990) was also pretty inspiring, that piece of work required collecting used sanitary towels from participants and presenting them in a museum format so that they were historical artefacts.
B: How do you tackle creative block?
F: A lot of the time I tend to just make loads of experiments, take weird and unusual mediums and try to create something which has some resonance with a previous project. For example, I used old balloons and string from previous works and made them into illustrations of menstrual flow. In order to get somewhere, I suggest grabbing and playing with loads of different materials, sometimes the best ideas happen by accident. Occasionally, I use the internet as a starting point, I couldn’t afford to go to The ‘Nasty Girls’ exhibit in New York but I have read thoroughly about it online – it features an array of women’s artwork which arose as a response to Donald Trump’s election as president.
Being a Female Creative: Making a difference through art
B: What do you want to express most in your art form?
F: I want to find a way I can challenge present issues that women still have to tackle in contemporary life. I want to tackle the stigma around women and bodily fluids but also stand up for feminism and how a lot of people misinterpret the word. I’ve explored many things as well as menstrual taboo; including body image, self-perception and gender stereotypes. I am unsure how much I can change these problems through my art but I want to try to bring attention to them by making accessible work.
B: How would you describe the experience of being a female in this industry?
F: I feel these days, in terms of being on my course, there are more women artists. I still feel like we don’t always have equal opportunities. I feel there are less shared exhibitions than all female shows. We are still experiencing a divide and women artists are definitely gaining recognition but we are not there yet. Many of my fellow peers on my degree course have commented that if you’re a female making art, there is a pressure from those who critique you that your work must raise feminist issues. People believe that because you are a woman that your work must relate to these issues somehow? We need to break away from “You are a woman” as a critique even if personally, my work happens to be based on feminist ideologies.
B: What would be your advice for other aspiring female artists?
F: Number 1 persevere. Go for every opportunity and make art work that resonates with you, regardless of your gender.
Written by Brittany Sutcliffe.
Please take note of Fanny Pack’s Comments Policy before commenting on this article.