A powerfully disquieting narrative permeates Rupi Kaur’s photographs, and her poetry alike. Both very simplistic in form, they actually offer the viewer pervasive discourses about disparate power relations. Her evocative messages are distilled into the most compact form: a piece of lyrical verse, or a visual snapshot of social disturbance.
Recently Kaur’s passion for her message was made evident when parts of her photo series, an honest and straightforward depiction of menstruation, was twice banned from her Instagram account. Her photo series Period shows a woman with her period: curled up on her bed; in the shower; clutching a blood-stained piece of toilet paper. Instagram pulled the photo of the woman lying on the bed, purporting that the image did not “keep Instagram safe,” and flouted the “Community Guidelines.”
Kaur’s response is powerful for what indeed is “unsafe” about menstruation. Kaur abhors the societal discomfort and taboo we feel towards the natural bodily function, instead shying away from it.
She is especially perturbed that, while we cannot accept menstruation, we readily find near-solace in pornification and objectification:
the sexualization of women. the violence and degradation of women than this. they cannot be bothered to express their disgust about all that. but will be angered and bothered by this. we menstruate and they see it as dirty.
Exploring the deep intersection between the image and the idea, Kaur produced her photo series for a visual rhetoric class at the University of Waterloo, Canada. The ideas in the series extend those of her lucid poetry, which elegantly explores issues of violence, covert social taboo, sexuality and gender power. She scrutinises social containment, and the issue of implicit social rules dictating our actions.
Her artistic form is simple as it exposes the world for what it is, yet her message is powerful. Kaur’s blog offers visuals of her spoken word poetry which, although brief, incorporates a vast narrative structure, which is embedded in a destructive social arena. Her passion for storytelling is evident in her art; despite the short-form of her poetry, it features a set of well-defined characters, who are intriguing in their depth, and bleak in their veritable flaws.
if you want to know the type of man he is names no one specific, but the male character is a grotesque representation of a person who lies to achieve his selfish ends. Kaur’s writing, alludes to a tense discrepancy between appearance and reality, wherein the the man conceals his personality, veiling himself in pretence, and deceiving those around him. Kaur’s poem speaks of the toxicity at his core, which can never be over-riden. Her poem prompts us to avoid complacency, to act against the oppression.
Kaur’s feminist discourse compels women to perform gender in their own way, separate from traditional definitions. Her poetry disparages the glass ceiling: the invisible force constricting social movement and confining feminine identity. That it is transparent means society pretends everything is ok.
Ultimately, Kaur’s poetry and photography celebrate strength and diversity. Rupi Kaur offers an honest and powerful voice. Her simplicity speaks volumes about what is otherwise covert: social taboos, constricting gender rules and implicit violent tendencies. The more Kaur’s passionate words are heard, the more we can normalise safe and healthy relations between each other.