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interviews • poetry • art

A Period Piece

A Period Piece

I was delighted when Azadeh contacted me over twitter to share her period art. It is an honour to host her work on our page. 

by Azadeh Monzavi

My period journey began while walking through the Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s historic train which was making a stop at various cities throughout Turkiye in either 1998 or 1999. I remember vividly jumping off from the train steps and suddenly feeling something happen within my body. I was unsure of what it could have been at the time. You see, I had been living in Turkiye for the past four years as a refugee with my elderly father and older brother.

Our search for asylum had begun after my mom’s death due to cancer when I was about eight years old and my older sister who had accompanied us on the initial journey had already immigrated to Canada and left us behind three years earlier. Here I was, relishing the beauty of history and culture that was passing through the city entirely unaware of the beautiful moment of growth that was taking shape through me as a young girl.

There were many questions running through my mind. What was happening to me? I had only passingly heard of young girls getting their periods, but it was nothing I had ever been properly introduced to. In fact, having already reached the age of fourteen, I was sure that was never going to happen to me anymore as it must have been simply too late. In all of my naiveté, I assumed that the period train had already passed and left me behind.

Well… I guess I was wrong, and the proof was in my brightly stained underpants. Sadly though, what should be an expected aspect of growing up was, for me, a source of fear and anxiety. There was no one to run home to and share my fears with. There was no one to explain this very normal phenomenon and set my mind at ease. There was no one to help me relieve the associated pain. After all, I could hardly discuss my situation with my brother who was merely still a teenager himself. And as for my father, well… that is just not something young girls tend to do. So, here I was alone and confused.

Luckily, however, I was aware of packages that my sister had left behind. I could best describe the pads inside these packages as what looked like thick, long mattresses for Barbie. It suddenly made sense as to why my sister had these packages tucked behind things. I was finally one of the many young girls who were experiencing their first period.

Unfortunately, however, just as it is still the case in many countries and cultures around the world, I was amongst those whose experience was marred by fear, anxiety, and secrecy. In fact, as a young girl living in a patriarchal society, I was neither allowed nor expected to make the much-hated monthly trip to the pharmacy in order to purchase sanitary pads on my own. If not alone, then who was I supposed to ask to accompany me? My brother who used to question me endlessly when I asked him to stand and wait for me outside of the store? My father with whom I never discussed the matter with? At the end, an elderly lady who lived next door agreed to walk with me to the city centre in order to buy pads when needed. A trip which would always end with me running anxiously into the house and hoping not to get caught by my brother and firing line of questioning?

You might wonder what all of this has to do with this work of art that I have titled A Period Piece. Well, this work resembles one of those thick, uncomfortable sanitary pads that were left behind by my sister. The materials used are all second-hand and thrifted from local charity shops. The support is made of old white bedsheets which not only were historically a material used by women as makeshift sanitary pads, but they have often been stained by women’s periods. The sheets are then handsewn into the elongated shape and filled with quilt batting. The crotched section in the middle is a combination of crochet stitches numbered for the average age from which periods begin and to the age that they usually end due to menopause; as well as the average number of days that a period usually lasts. And as for the technique, I use crotchet as a way to honour and remember the elderly neighbour, Ayşe Teyze, who not only accompanied me on the dreaded trips to the pharmacy, but who so kindly taught me how to crotchet.

Ultimately, I want A Period Piece to be a symbol of pride in one’s growth journey and this significant milestone. By creating this work, I am, albeit years later, celebrating my own experiences as a young girl. Most importantly, I want to bring much needed attention to this incredibly important issue of social justice that impacts many young girls and women globally.