Art has the intangible quality of making humans feel so many emotions. It can transport our tiny brains to another time or place. It evokes emotions we thought we’d buried deep enough to hopefully never see the light of day again. But something particularly extraordinary happens when art challenges us and becomes a platform for unspoken issues. Our heart leaps into our throats, and lost for words, we are simply shocked.
This is the kind of art that Adelaide based artist Paloma Ellery is creating. Her subject – the TABOO topic of female menstruation. Her medium – tampons and red glittery nail polish, both items that are inherently feminine and used daily by women the world over. However, dip a tampon in red nail polish and arrange meticulously behind glass and Paloma creates a very strong image that brings about some uncomfortable reactions from viewers.
‘People’s reactions to the bloody red period pieces has been really interesting. I initially did a piece with 320 tampons in a frame and they didn’t really look like tampons in that context. I wanted to make it more obvious so I thought, stuff it, I’ll put some red on them and that’s when everyone got a bit weirded out. When I added the glitter it made it more of a abstract version of blood which made people more comfortable.’
On a whole, in the year 2018, the masses are still not okay with being shown period blood. We know this when we see innocuous blue liquid, which is very much not blood or even red in colour, spill onto a pad in every second sanitary product commercial. This is a boundary that Paloma would like to gently push even further with her most recent work, which sees lace trimmed white underwear splashed with red glitter on the gusset. Genius, a glamorous period stain! Paloma says that posting images of the underwear to social media has drawn mixed reactions, especially from men.
‘I sent a Snapchat of the undies to some friends and one guy was like ‘WTF, that’s disgusting’. But then another guy messaged me saying he loved what I was doing, which was really cool.’
Paloma is aware that her art will shock and maybe even draw disgust from some and that sometimes people are just being polite to her when they actually are feeling uncomfortable about what they are seeing. Always having a creative way of thinking, delving into a topic of substance like menstruation has enabled Paloma to take her art to the next level and branch out from painting to sculpture and installation. The idea of using tampons in her work came to her through a fascination with the everyday objects people use but give no thought to.
‘Toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo and conditioner, I find it fascinating that people look past those objects. You go to the toilet and use toilet paper but you never think about it. I wanted to turn those things into a form of art.’
Likewise, Paloma believes that underwear is simply a piece of material that everyone uses. But paint it strategically with some red nail polish and you can evoke a whole new set of emotions surrounding women’s menstruation.
Paloma is studying visual arts at Uni SA and specialising in painting where her work has been well received so far. Her Grandma has asked her when she’s going to be over her ‘tampon phase’ but this ‘phase’ shows no sign of losing momentum for this artist. Paloma intends to submit her ‘tampon work’ as part of her assessment and is planning a wall or clothesline type installation featuring the white period stained underwear for her end of year show. A set up that Paloma plans to be more ‘invasive and personal’ than tampons behind glass.
‘I want to have thirty pairs of the underwear hanging like a clothesline. I also want to take photos of people with pads with red glitter across their mouth, because the issue is unspoken.’
We are sure that this talented and innovative young artist will get people talking about her important subject matter and we can hardly wait to see what this boundary-pushing babe creates.
If you’d like to find out more about Paloma and her art, and we suggest you do, head to instagram.com/palomasperspective
Words by Alicia Franceschini