Roz Campbell is baffled by the way menstruation is discussed. Or not discussed. Her brand of ethically made sanitary pads, Tsuno, has exposed her to the full range of opinions, taboos, jokes, euphemisms and general discomfort around the discussion of having a period.
Her latest project is Shark Week: an exhibition featuring local artists exploring some of the bizarre, funny and downright creative euphemisms used to describe the five-to-seven days a month during which some human people shed the lining of their uteruses.
“It started when I heard the one: ‘I’m having my garage painted’. And I was like, ‘That’s so unrelated, I don’t know what the connection is at all!’”
Campbell came across a list of phrases used to describe what Cher coined in Clueless as “riding the crimson wave”. For example: “a little ketchup with my steak”; “the monkey has a nosebleed”; “bitchy witchy week”; “riding the cotton pony”. It got her thinking: there are so many ways of saying something that society isn’t comfortable talking about plainly.
Campbell had the idea to illustrate visually some of these menstrual monikers. So she did a call-out on social media. “I thought it might be an interesting way to create something to talk about,” she says.
Talking about the fact of life that is menstruating is exactly what Campbell has been doing since she became involved in One Girl’s Do It In A Dress challenge. Demystifying it, making it a mainstream topic of conversation and pushing back against stigma is a big part of her work with Tsuno, too.
Tsuno raises money for the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) by selling ethical, environmentally friendly pads. Campbell’s interest in opening up discussion about menstruation began when she became aware that girls in the developing world were missing school because they didn’t have products to manage their periods. And that the shame in these countries (but not exclusive to them) around menstruation kept girls from actively participating in their communities.
“When I started Tsuno in 2013 I approached media,” says Campbell. “So many of them said: ‘We don’t want to talk about periods.’ And I was really shocked that was happening in Australia. I’d learned about what was going on in the developing world, but in Australia I was like, ‘Why does it matter? Why is this a problem?’”
Campbell was told radio presenters didn’t feel comfortable talking about periods, and that audiences wouldn’t want to hear about them. “One magazine said their male audience – even though they were a woman’s magazine – wouldn’t appreciate it. They had a blanket rule about not discussing menstruation. That’s really bad.”
Jacqueline Smith, who goes by the artist name AUF WIEDERSEHEN is one of the artists featured in Shark Week. She is also the co-founder of Enough Space Gallery where the exhibition is being held.
Smith’s piece is in what she describes as her signature style. “I chose ‘having your pixies’ because I thought it was terribly stupid. Also, I often draw feminine characters,” she says.
The artworks are for sale. The artists set their own prices and half will go to the IWDA.
A pop-up shop will be on-site selling other pieces, such as jewellery. Tsuno products will be available, as will the heat packs Campbell has designed in the shape of sanitary pads with cute smiley faces on them. “One jeweller does earrings that are beautiful beaded vaginas, and one of the artists in the exhibition also makes the Breast Friends ear studs,” says Campbell.
During the exhibition the gallery space will host events such as a pleasure information session with sexologist Vanessa Muradia, a performance by Bree Turner based on her Fringe Festival show, Glory Whole, and life-drawing sessions.
“Not being able to talk about this bodily function – you can’t measure how much of an effect it has on women and our ability to just be ourselves and to not be ashamed,” says Campbell. “The point of this is to create another conversation about menstruation. And it’s awareness raising for the IWDA.”
Shark Week will launch at Enough Space Gallery, 2A/127 Greville Street, Prahran on January 15, 2016 at 6pm. The exhibition will run until January 31, 2016.