LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation
This past week, artists, poets, dancers and musicians from different walks of life had come together at Jatra Biroti, under the glistening full moon, for the occasion of LAL; the celebration of the natural phenomenon of menstruation.
What is LAL?
Jatra Biroti, a locus of art and culture in Dhaka, had organized a five-day long event, aligned with the dates of the full moon, to celebrate menstruation and its connection with the divine moon cycle. This event aimed to break the stigma that is often associated with period. It aimed to educate people of all ages and genders about menstruation. And create a space where people could come together to talk freely about “that time of the month”.
It was an event unlike any other; from children to senior citizens, openly discussing and even rejoicing about period positivity.
Breaking stigma through art
LAL has used the powerful tool of art in various forms; such as poetry, artworks, music, dance and more. In the process, dismantling the preconceived notions that people often hold about menstruation.
Art can be a compelling vehicle that can bring about change in how we perceive things; it can help us to identify ourselves with matters that may otherwise seem unfamiliar to us. It can spur thinking, engagement and even action and that is what this event dedicated to menstruation aspired to achieve.
The exhibition, located on the third floor of Jatra Biroti, opens with a massive vagina tunnel entry (it doesn’t get more unconventional than that). It then leads the pathway to numerous artworks representing menstruation. Weeks before the event, Jatra Biroti had announced an open call to artists and enthusiasts for submissions of artworks. The call received an overwhelming response from several artists who wanted to contribute to this initiative. Each artist had brought in their own unique perspectives and representations through their fearless artworks.
One of the artists that I conversed with said, “I tried to bring in humor to my work so people can become comfortable talking about menstruation. It doesn’t have to be this sacred thing, because I’m literally bleeding from down there every month”. Another said, “I feel like I’m gaining autonomy over my own body as I draw about menstruation”.
Being a participant myself, it was truly rewarding to witness how art can disrupt people’s predetermined ideas about matters like the menstrual stigma.
Dance, Music, Poetry
This five-day long celebration was also filled with various performances and music sessions by several other artists. Some of the major highlights of LAL were the moving poetry recitations by Munia Islam and Bokulful, the powerful performances by Arthy, Krishnokoli, Preema Nazia and the soulful musical evenings by Shourik SK and UNY, Sovotta, Vee, Anusheh Anadil, Baul Shofi Mondol and the Ghaashforing Choir to name a few.
Some interactive workshop sessions were also held by organizations like Astha Foundation, Kotha, Project Konna, Naripokkho. All of them were aimed at normalizing the topic of menstruation in their own distinctive ways. Each session took a different and creative approach in order to explore the topic of period with their audience. For instance, Astha Foundation took on a more humorous approach where they debunked period myths, created awareness about menstrual hygiene and PMS with a touch of sarcasm.
Project Konna aimed to create a more intimate experience between couples so they can be comfortable about the topic of period.
Kotha held a class conscious interactive workshop on menstruation. With the help of participants, they built 3 characters and walked through their unique menstruating experiences to highlight how accessibility differs vastly as we move across different classes.
Recyclable sanitary products
While the event set out to challenge the stigma around menstruation, it had also taken the initiative to raise awareness of plastic in disposable menstrual products, and how we can work to minimize this by using biodegradable and reusable sanitary products in order to protect our environment. Several hundred pads are disposed on a daily basis, just inside Dhaka, which pollute our environment inconceivably. Under the name Lal Peyala, Jatra is selling reusable pads which are available in a variety of designs. They are also selling menstrual cups in order to create a more sustainable way of managing our periods.
An event like LAL is momentous. Because, even though it may not solve the problems regarding menstruation in Bangladesh overnight, it can help to change the conversation around it by ending the shame that we associate with it.
A vital step for us to make any substantial progress.
This bloody menstruation taboo has loomed over us for far too long, so lets all just come out in the open and say it, all women bleed. Period.