Paris show on women’s periods ‘breaks taboo’

A renowned French photographer is inviting a Paris audience with an open mind to venture into the world of women's menstrual cycles at an exhibition she's perhaps appropriately called 'The Curse'.

Paris show on women's periods 'breaks taboo'
Twenty-four photographs that showcase a woman and her period, from her teens through to her menopause. Photo: Marianne Rosenstielh

“Since my teens, I’ve always wondered why female blood was meant to be invisible,” photographer Marianne Rosenstielh explains.

She’s previously photographed the likes of actresses Juliette Binoche and Clemence Poesy but this time Rosenstielh’s take on femininity is far less commercial and politically correct.

‘The Curse’, exhibited at Le Petit Espace in Paris, takes visitors on a journey through the taboo and often clichéd subject of women’s menstrual cycles.

“When a taboo is so powerful, we are tempted just to obscure it,” Rosenstielh told The Local while explaining her motivation for exploring the topic.

"While I was doing some research, I realized that there was a blatant lack of representation of [the woman's menstrual cycle]", which for her was "suspicious”.

“The exhibition gives a face to a fantasy that has been built on anxiety," she added.

The display features 24 photographs that showcase a woman and her period, from her teens through to her menopause.

The photo above illustrates the expression "Les Anglais ont débarqué" (the English have disembarked), which means a woman is on her period. It refers to the English soldiers – known as the redcoats because of their red uniforms – disembarking on French beaches during the Napoleonic Wars. No prizes for guessing the link.

“Thousands of years of obscurity have turned a completely natural occurrence into a taboo,” Rosenstielh argues, while adding that she studied the work of art historians and anthropologists before preparing her exhibition.  

“Religions have often made their followers treat women as impure or maleficent during their periods.”

"My starting point was to ask myself how our generation is approaching this subject when we live in an environment free of religious beliefs," she told The Local.

Despite the controversy surrounding the subject matter, Rosenstielh has tried to steer clear of militant and shocking allusions in her photos.

“I want to offer a contemporary representation which allows each and every one of us to reflect on the subject matter.”

And despite the perhaps sensitive nature of the subject of her exhibition, she says the reaction from the public has been positive, especially among male visitors to the gallery.

“There was a little bit of anxiety from the public at first," she said. "The most enthusiastic reactions came from men.”

“I was pleasantly surprised, it is a relief for them.”

SEE ALSO: When sex and art collide in France 

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Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles

Rising high beyond an ancient Roman arena in Arles, a tall, twisted tower created by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun, the latest futuristic addition to this southern French city known for its World Heritage sites.

Futuristic Gehry tower opens in World Heritage Arles
Gehry's Luma Tower opens in Arles, France. Photo: H I / Pixabay

The tower, which opens to the public on Saturday, is the flagship attraction of a new “creative campus” conceived by the Swiss Luma arts foundation that wants to offer artists a space to create, collaborate and showcase their work.

Gehry, the 92-year-old brain behind Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum and Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, wrapped 11,000 stainless steel panels around his tower above a huge glass round base.

It will house contemporary art exhibitions, a library, and offices, while the Luma Arles campus as a whole will host conferences and live performances.

From a distance, the structure reflects the changing lights of this town that inspired Van Gogh, capturing the whiteness of the limestone Alpilles mountain range nearby which glows a fierce orange when the sun sets.

Mustapha Bouhayati, the head of Luma Arles, says the town is no stranger to
imposing monuments; its ancient Roman arena and theatre have long drawn the

The tower is just the latest addition, he says. “We’re building the heritage of tomorrow.”

Luma Arles spreads out over a huge former industrial wasteland.

Maja Hoffmann, a Swiss patron of the arts who created the foundation, says
the site took seven years to build and many more years to conceive.

Maja Hoffmann, founder and president of the Luma Foundation. Photo: Pascal GUYOT / AFP

Aside from the tower, Luma Arles also has exhibition and performance spaces in former industrial buildings, a phosphorescent skatepark created by South Korean artist Koo Jeong A and a sprawling public park conceived by Belgian landscape architect Bas Smets.

‘Arles chose me’

The wealthy great-granddaughter of a founder of Swiss drug giant Roche, Hoffmann has for years been involved in the world of contemporary art, like her grandmother before her.

A documentary producer and arts collector, she owns photos by Annie Leibovitz and Diane Arbus and says she hung out with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York.

Her foundation’s stated aim is to promote artists and their work, with a special interest in environmental issues, human rights, education and culture.

She refuses to answer a question on how much the project in Arles cost. But as to why she chose the 53,000-strong town, Hoffmann responds: “I did not choose Arles, Arles chose me.”

She moved there as a baby when her father Luc Hoffmann, who co-founded WWF,
created a reserve to preserve the biodiversity of the Camargue, a region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river delta known for its pink flamingos.

The tower reflects that, with Camargue salt used as mural panels and the
delta’s algae as textile dye.

Hoffmann says she wants her project to attract more visitors in the winter, in a town where nearly a quarter of the population lives under the poverty line.

Some 190 people will be working at the Luma project over the summer, Bouhayati says, adding that Hoffman has created an “ecosystem for creation”.