Representation matters. Period.

Two local Black artists have partnered with a grassroots organization focused on addressing period poverty and ending the stigma surrounding menstruation

Changing the Flow is a newly formed local organization whose founders recognize that period poverty (the inability for menstruating individuals to afford period products) is an issue not only in underinvested countries, but right here in Canada, in our region. Its vision is for all public, workplace, and educational institutions’ washrooms to provide access to free menstrual products, in the same way that one would expect there to be toilet paper. Since periods are normal, period products are therefore essential items. It further seeks to destigmatize menstruation and raise awareness that menstruation is not gender specific.

As one part of their campaign, Changing the Flow — with support from the KW Awesome Foundation — has created receptacles for period products called “Period Boxes.” Organizations who are seeking to make their spaces more equitable and supportive for their menstruating employees/patrons can use Period Boxes to provide and display free menstrual supplies in an eye-catching way. Some local partnerships already include Juici Yoga, Sanguen Health Centre, SPECTRUM, and MPP Laura Mae Lindo’s office.

Changing the Flow is taking a very deliberate anti-oppressive/anti-racist approach to their vision. Understanding that Black artists are underrepresented and undervalued in our region, they have partnered with two local artists to design the first series of boxes under the title: Inclusion: Period Boxes for You. The hope is to not only increase Black artists’ visibility and representation, but also that the evocative and visually stunning pieces will start conversations, leading to normalizing discussions surrounding menstruation.

One artist has chosen to remain anonymous but did reach out to say that their race influenced their decision to participate in the project. Anno Neemiswr (their chosen pseudonym) channeled the Japanese fashion style Yami Kawaii for the design of their pink pills and stitching motif box entitled “Let’s Talk About It.” They wanted to fuse their Black identity with an Asian theme for the box, to symbolize their belief that “the difficulty people of colour experience when receiving medical care” is a “universal issue” amongst all racialized groups.

Alana Decker is the second artist; a proud, Black, bisexual, mother of four who describes herself as “a bilingual credit analyst by day and painter by night.” Her work is motivated by many things including strength, love, music, and her heritage. I had the pleasure and privilege to speak to Alana about her art, her inspiration and why she was attracted to the period box project.

(Photo from Alana Decker website)

Alana said she has always been creative, but it was during COVID when she put brush to canvas. Working through a period of anxiety and depression, she began attending yoga classes where she credits the stillness and meditation with impacting her mind and soul. They provided her the time and space to “feel everything, deal with things that happened in the past and let it go”, to “really know myself.”

The result was a lot of “truth and crying” that opened a “window of creativity that just flew in,” a flow of energy that hasn’t stopped! Painting allows her to “release [her] inner child,” something that she believes two of her favourite artists, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, do in their work.

Alana’s art is rooted in her Blackness, because “we don’t get to see much of ourselves out there.” Representation is top of mind for the artist with much inspiration stemming from her children and her wish for them “to see the importance of who they are, to be empowered, to know that there is strength in being a Black human being despite what they might hear.”

For Alana, the message in her art is for Black people to know who they are and that “we are strong, we are loved,” and for her children to understand that “what Mommy is creating is for them to know their worth.” Acknowledging that colourism occurs within racialized communities, her art isn’t only produced for others’ consumption – it also reflects an embracing of her own identity as a dark-skinned Black woman and her perceptions of beauty. One can sense Alana’s encouragement of Black pride through the titles of some of her works: The Many Shades of Ebony; You Are Valued; I’m A Queen; Diversity.

Representation is also a major reason behind Alana’s desire to be involved with the period box project. Her own upbringing around the topic of periods was one of shame, something that she suspects is prevalent in the Black community – periods are whispered about, pads are to be hidden deep in the garbage can, no one is ever supposed to know when you have it. Alana is adamant, though, that “there’s no gray area here – this is real life, and it needs to be spoken about loudly”.

(Photo from Alana Decker website)

Alana’s artwork on the second period box seeks to combat the stigma. Entitled “No Shame In My Flow Game”, the message is to not feel embarrassed about menstruating; to feel confident about it, to make it normal. The boxes are important to her because “it doesn’t matter what the gender is, [people] should be able to have something to help them instead of having to hide it.” Her piece features two Black hands clasped, which she says are meant to signify unity not only amongst the Black community, but amongst all who menstruate, letting them know they aren’t moving through the world in isolation.

It was also of importance to Alana to have Black representation on the box because Black artists lack visibility. She notes that while “there are a lot of amazing Black artists in the region, they’re not seen like they should be seen.”

Partnering with Changing the Flow has provided Alana with the opportunity to showcase her work while also supporting a cause she is passionate about.

More information on period boxes and how to incorporate them into your workplace or institution can be found on the Change the Flow website:

More of Alana’s amazing work in the form of originals, prints, and jigsaw puzzles can be found and purchased on her website:

You can see more of Anno NeemisWR’s work through their Instagram: @annoneemiswr.

Joy Harris (she/they) is a Black mixed-race Canadian and life-long Waterloo resident. A lover of music, living room/kitchen/pretty-much-anywhere dance parties, reading, card games, and cheese, she embraces life-long learning about a variety of social justice issues. She enjoys writing but doesn’t call herself a writer… yet.

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