LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

This past week, artists, poets, dancers and musicians from different walks of life had come together at Jatra Biroti, under the glistening full moon, for the occasion of LAL; the celebration of the natural phenomenon of menstruation.

What is LAL?

Jatra Biroti, a locus of art and culture in Dhaka, had organized a five-day long event, aligned with the dates of the full moon, to celebrate menstruation and its connection with the divine moon cycle. This event aimed to break the stigma that is often associated with period. It aimed to educate people of all ages and genders about menstruation. And create a space where people could come together to talk freely about “that time of the month”.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

It was an event unlike any other; from children to senior citizens, openly discussing and even rejoicing about period positivity.

In a society like Bangladesh, where we shut down any conversation regarding this ordinary bodily function of women, it is necessary that we take measures to normalize such topics. And Lal acts as a groundbreaking event which is opening new spaces of conversation and subverting the age-old stigmas related to menstruation.

Breaking stigma through art

LAL has used the powerful tool of art in various forms; such as poetry, artworks, music, dance and more. In the process, dismantling the preconceived notions that people often hold about menstruation.

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Art can be a compelling vehicle that can bring about change in how we perceive things; it can help us to identify ourselves with matters that may otherwise seem unfamiliar to us. It can spur thinking, engagement and even action and that is what this event dedicated to menstruation aspired to achieve.

The exhibition

The exhibition, located on the third floor of Jatra Biroti, opens with a massive vagina tunnel entry (it doesn’t get more unconventional than that). It then leads the pathway to numerous artworks representing menstruation. Weeks before the event, Jatra Biroti had announced an open call to artists and enthusiasts for submissions of artworks. The call received an overwhelming response from several artists who wanted to contribute to this initiative. Each artist had brought in their own unique perspectives and representations through their fearless artworks.

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One of the artists that I conversed with said, “I tried to bring in humor to my work so people can become comfortable talking about menstruation. It doesn’t have to be this sacred thing, because I’m literally bleeding from down there every month”. Another said, “I feel like I’m gaining autonomy over my own body as I draw about menstruation”.

Being a participant myself, it was truly rewarding to witness how art can disrupt people’s predetermined ideas about matters like the menstrual stigma.

Dance, Music, Poetry

This five-day long celebration was also filled with various performances and music sessions by several other artists. Some of the major highlights of LAL were the moving poetry recitations by Munia Islam and Bokulful, the powerful performances by Arthy, Krishnokoli, Preema Nazia and the soulful musical evenings by Shourik SK and UNY, Sovotta, Vee, Anusheh Anadil, Baul Shofi Mondol and the Ghaashforing Choir to name a few.


Some interactive workshop sessions were also held by organizations like Astha Foundation, Kotha, Project Konna, Naripokkho. All of them were aimed at normalizing the topic of menstruation in their own distinctive ways. Each session took a different and creative approach in order to explore the topic of period with their audience. For instance, Astha Foundation took on a more humorous approach where they debunked period myths, created awareness about menstrual hygiene and PMS with a touch of sarcasm.

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Project Konna aimed to create a more intimate experience between couples so they can be comfortable about the topic of period.

Kotha held a class conscious interactive workshop on menstruation. With the help of participants, they built 3 characters and walked through their unique menstruating experiences to highlight how accessibility differs vastly as we move across different classes.

Recyclable sanitary products

While the event set out to challenge the stigma around menstruation, it had also taken the initiative to raise awareness of plastic in disposable menstrual products, and how we can work to minimize this by using biodegradable and reusable sanitary products in order to protect our environment. Several hundred pads are disposed on a daily basis, just inside Dhaka, which pollute our environment inconceivably. Under the name Lal Peyala, Jatra is selling reusable pads which are available in a variety of designs. They are also selling menstrual cups in order to create a more sustainable way of managing our periods.

An event like LAL is momentous. Because, even though it may not solve the problems regarding menstruation in Bangladesh overnight, it can help to change the conversation around it by ending the shame that we associate with it.

A vital step for us to make any substantial progress.

This bloody menstruation taboo has loomed over us for far too long, so lets all just come out in the open and say it, all women bleed. Period.

An evening of forgotten ballads by Jennifer Reid

On the 6th of April at around 6:00 PM, Art Cafe on Gulshan Avenue Dhaka was buzzing with people who were about to witness a unique show of music and story-telling. The event titled “From Blackburn to Bangladesh: A Musical” acquainted us with Jennifer Reid, a young ballad singer from Manchester. She came to Bangladesh and soon found a connection between the weavers from the first industrial revolution in Manchester with those living the same lives today in Bangladesh. Singing 19th century Industrial Revolution broadside ballads and Lancashire dialect work songs, Jennifer performed her native ballads while discussing its similarities with the industrial and local folk songs here in Bangladesh.

The event started off with Reid explaining what broadside ballads were. “They are called broadsides because they had ballads printed on one side and you’d cut pieces from the sheet and sell them. It was an essential way of passing on news about everything – be it murders, executions, industrial actions or the death of a celebrity”, said Reid. She then sang ballads which told stories of women working with looms and of poverty stricken children who woke up at dawn to go work in the factories. All of her songs portray the life lived during the industrial revolution. The ballads are as old as being from the 17th century and as recent as the 19th century, as the industries shifted from the west towards lesser developed areas of the world where labour was cheaper.

Which brings us to Bangladesh, where the economy is still growing. It is also home to millions of working class people whose lives resemble those of 19th century Manchester workers.

After each ballad, she showed us songs which explore similar stories of the poor in the rural areas of Bangladesh. She showed samples of Bhatiali, the songs of fishermen, Bhawaiya, songs of bullock-cart drivers and Maimansingha Gitika, a collection of folk ballads that were later translated in English as Eastern Bengal Ballads, all of which resemblances the songs sung by people from centuries ago, in a land thousands of miles away.

We got a chance to sit with Reid and therefore asked her why she drew parallels between 19th century British working class and of those in Bangladesh. She said, “With the recent Rana Plaza tragedy and many other workers’ rights issues going unnoticed here, it bears a lot of resemblance to the lives of the workers of 19th century England. It’s almost like the struggles shifted from one part of the world to another.”

Being the only living person who can still sing these old ballads, Reid feels a certain sense of responsibility towards sharing and teaching these songs so they don’t fade away. She does events, has her own album, and has even taken classes to teach children about the history of these songs.

When asked why it was essential to never forget these songs, she said, “It’s important because it’s a part of our history and our culture. Remembering these ballads will help us stay grounded to who we are and where we were from. It’s an essential part of history.”

Reid will continue to lend her voice as she travels around the world, giving everyone a chance to experience something raw which is not to say just another lesson in history, but a lesson in humanity.

MIB Spirit Spring Meet Up @ Clay Station

After many successful get-togethers, the MIB Spirit Spring Meet-up once again brought together independent business owners from all across Dhaka, giving them the platform they need in order to interact with customers first hand, and to get the kind of exposure young and creative entrepreneurs are looking for.

The event kicked off on the 6th of April at 11:00 AM at Clay Station, Banani. The place was full of young creative minds beaming with excitement as they chatted with customers who they usually interact with via social media. There were stalls with traditional and contemporary clothing and jewelry, home decor items, hand-crafted leather shoes, beautifully designed notebooks, bookmarks and of course, delicious cupcakes and brownies. The one thing they all had in common though, was that they were all independent, Bangladeshi business owners, who make their products here.

Like Ornate by Ona, who, even though she has a full time job at a digital marketing agency, has always had a passion for designing clothes. She told us how her full time job inspired her to make affordable yet trendy clothes for students or young working women who wanted to look on point when they are going to work or class.

Another designer, Mehnaz Ahmed Adiba, is a full time architect by profession, but is also a designer of ethnic and traditional jewelry, but with a modern twist. She has rings with rickshaw art on them and also headpieces inspired by jewelry worn by her grandmother; bringing together the past and the present in perfect ornamental harmony.

Muchi, an adoring reminder of the true shoe experts of our country, is an initiative taken upon by four friends who love shoes, and who took time out of their everyday office jobs to invest in making hand-crafted leather shoes for men. Shafaqat Alam, the Managing partner of Muchi, told us how important it was for them to maintain quality and to use local artisans only and raw materials from Old Dhaka.

There were stalls like Brownie Hut as well, for those who wanted a bite to eat. Brownie Hut is an independent dessert endeavor run by two sisters, Mehruk and Madiha. We spoke to Mehruk who told us how she always loved baking and that she decided to use it as a project for her entrepreneurship course while studying BBA. It’s been three years since she opened a Facebook page for her business and by now, she has already worked with 10 other restaurants, and currently holds a pop-up shop inside Oregano, in Dhanmondi.

Other pop-ups included Eat Better, another delicious dessert venture which brought its signature dessert – Perfé. Apart from eateries there were many other businesses present at the event such as TigerBow, a company which makes bow ties using local materials and Home Junction, a home decor company, as well as many other artisans from Bangladesh.

The perfect platform for up and coming creatives, the MIB Spirit Meet-up, upholds the spirit, the vibrancy and the authentic beauty of Dhaka city, through art, entrepreneurship and everything in between. The event is on till the 7th of April, so go check it out!