Blood works: Judy Chicago and menstrual art since 1970

Camilla Mork Rostvik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In the span of two years, Judy Chicago created three artworks about menstruation. First, the unpublished play My Menstrual Life in December 1971, in collaboration with University of California, Berkeley political scientist Isabel Welsh. Second, she made the photolithograph Red Flag in 1971 (Fig. 1). Third, in 1972 Chicago created the installation Menstruation Bathroom as part of the feminist exhibition Womanhouse. In the almost fifty years that have passed, menstrual discourse has ballooned as activists, academics and artists reach larger audiences than ever before, exemplified in popular discourse when the magazine Newsweek defined 2015 as the ‘Year the fight to end period shaming is going mainstream’.1 In many of such recent articles about menstruation and activism, Chicago’s 1970s menstrual artworks illustrate this story, but are seldom discussed in detail as works of art. This article aims to answer the questions that mainstream media and art historical literature have largely overlooked. How did Chicago come to make three works about menstruation in the early 1970s, and what can this tell us about the decade? How did the works make the journey from being taboo to being iconic, and how were they received (or not) depending on medium and timing? Do we appreciate the radical gesture of the artwork today, as a new generation of artists explore menstruation while receiving praise as well as censorship? This article presents the history of these three works, exploring how they were created in a state of taboo, and have ended up as icons of a movement calling for menstrual equity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)335-353
Number of pages19
JournalOxford Art Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2019


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