ARTS & CULTURE
01/12/2015 2:23 AM AEDT | Updated 01/12/2015 2:23 AM AEDT

Jewelry Designer Lili Murphy-Johnson Is Tired Of Your Period Stigma

Murphy-Johnson's blood red jewelry line is inspired by the beauty of menstruation.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Stained Knickers.

British designer Lili Murphy-Johnson isn't afraid to talk about periods. In fact, she's sick and tired of the stigma associated with women and menstruation. Months after artist Rupi Kaur encountered the wrath of Instagram censorship with her "period photos," Etsy deemed images of Murphy-Johnson's period-inspired jewelry "inappropriate." The designer conceded that some of her photos were "quite naked," but she remained perplexed by the idea that they were any more offensive than the near-nude advertisements she sees throughout London on a regular basis.

"My collection is inspired by menstruation," Murphy-Johnson writes online, "and the frustrating, leaking female body." Take a peek at her latest jewelry line, and it's not difficult to parse out this inspiration. In one photograph on Murphy-Johnson's website, a pair of otherwise pristinely white panties is adorned with a single, strategically placed, red beaded spot. In another, a flurry of ruby-colored rings is displayed on a hand that's lovingly cupping a woman's crotch. Then there's her simple gold bracelet, fitted with charms that look like tampons, sanitary pads and feminine deodorant spray.

 

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Laila's Flower

"I wanted to create beautiful jewelry out of something that is conventionally seen by society to be shameful," Murphy-Johnson explained to Broadly. "Periods should be a normal thing to talk about, but so often we feel embarrassed." She elaborates online, saying that her gorgeous, period-inspired jewelry consists of three parts: "Period Paraphernalia" (for example, the charm bracelet), "Blood" (those deep red rings), and "PMS" (centered around the hormonal mood swings associated with premenstrual syndrome). 

The Huffington Post checked in with the 22-year-old designer to learn more:

Starting with an easy one: What exactly inspired this collection?

The initial inspiration was my own PMS. The anxiety and irritation was holding back my work and I was struggling to find a concept to develop, so I decided to replicate the symptoms of what I was dealing with into jewelry.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Stained Shirt

How did you choose the materials for each "stage" of your collection? Is everything handmade, and how long does it take to create one piece?

For the "Period Paraphernalia" section (the charm bracelet, cuff and sanitary towel ring), I wanted to use traditional jewelry-making techniques, so the pieces looked very innocent at first glance. They were all handmade; it took a while to make each piece as some techniques, such as etching the carefree cuff, I struggled with. But generally it would take me a couple of weeks to make each piece as I wanted them. For these pieces, I wanted to use traditional jewelry materials like gold, silver and gemstones.

For the "Blood" section ("Laila's Flower" and "Overspill," the embroidered knickers and shirt) I wanted to be more open to what jewelry design could be. "Laila's Flower" and "Overspill" are photographs. I collected jewelry from markets that weren't associated with menstruation and photographed and styled them to match my concept. These photographs were just done one afternoon in the workshop. The embroidered knickers and shirt took the longest time, each one took around a week of solid embroidering.

The "PMS" section (the bouncing ball necklaces) were very quick to make, I wanted to be carefree with my making process of these pieces, trying to keep the object as close to the emotion I was trying to translate as possible.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Period Paraphernalia Charm Bracelet

In a past conversation between one of our writers, Mallika Rao (who grew up in a Hindu family), and artist Rupi Kaur (who grew up in a Sikh family), the two discussed the cultural and religious superstitions that have perpetuated the notion that menstruation is "defiling." What has your experience been with these kinds of superstitions?

Most people that I've grown up around have been pretty comfortable about periods, I haven't really got any interesting experiences of superstitions around it.

You, like Rupi, did encounter censorship online though -- she on Instagram and you on Etsy, when some of your images were deemed inappropriate. Etsy is somewhat of a different platform than Instagram, but how did you react to their claim that you violated their guidelines?

I was a little annoyed and surprised, as I didn't feel my jewelry was in any way offensive or inappropriate to be showing people. It was frustrating to be told I was doing something "wrong" when I knew it wasn't. I understand that the photography I used was quite naked -- but next to how women are photographed in adverts all over London every day, I didn't think it was a bad thing to show people.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Overspill

In a statement on your website, you mention the conflict inherent in perceptions of the female body -- that the body can be seen "as so perfect, yet also as so grotesque and unclean." 

Yes, I do think there is a strange conflict with how people view women's bodies. Like I mentioned in my previous answer, women in adverts are celebrated and admired when they're in underwear or dresses and have makeup on and their hair styled. However, if that women is visibly menstruating, I think it would change a lot of people's perception of her, even though it is a very normal thing for a woman's body to do.

You mention the over-saturation of products in drugstores, too. I always wonder this, so I'm interested in your thoughts: How could drugstores -- or even "feminine product" producers -- help to change the general perception of menstruation? Would it help if we saw diva cups front and center in the aisles? Are there other things they can do?

I think some companies are changing the way they advertise their products in a really good way. There are a lot more humorous adverts like Bodyform's "The Truth" advert where they talk to Richard, or Always' "#LikeAGirl" adverts which were empowering about women and menstruating. I think these changes help, but yes, I think shops could be more open to other methods of dealing with your period, maybe more practical and less about "beauty" and encouraging the stigma.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Used Sanitary Towel Ring

For a lot of artists attempting to alter perceptions of the female body -- through #FreeTheNipple or projects like yours -- there comes a lot of discussion about an artist's desire to raise visibility for certain issues, but sometimes, attempts at raising visibility are interpreted as a desire to shock audiences. Have you encountered anything like this? Do you have any specific desire to "shock" audiences?

I have encountered comments of people suggesting that I am just trying to shock and be controversial, but that has never been my aim with the collection. The pieces I made were developed from my process of looking into what menstruation is to me. I think they are only shocking if the person looking at them is shocked by menstruation itself.

Finally, who do you hope is buying and seeing your products?

I would want absolutely anyone to wear the jewelry, whether they have periods or not. Anyone who likes the idea of wearing sanitary towels and tampons.

Lili Murphy-Johnson
Carefree Cuff
Lili Murphy-Johnson
Bouncing Necklace 1 (PMS) -- Irritating swollen necklace

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