The Red Gown: Reflections on the Visual History of Menstruation in Scotland

Bee Hughes, Camilla Mork Rostvik, Catherine Spencer

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During 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, menstruation has become more present in public discourse in Scotland. Despite this, little attention has been paid to the complex interplay of visibility and invisibility that characterises menstruation’s place in the nation’s wider cultural landscape. In this article, we explore the context of menstruation in the town of St Andrews specifically, and Scotland more broadly, during the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and ask what this reveals about menstrual absence and presence in public debates. The University of St Andrews lies at the centre of this case study because it has been one of the first Scottish institutions to initiate a rollout of free menstrual products as a result of The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act of 2021. We do this in collaboration with artist Bee Hughes, whose practice focuses on the visible and invisible aspects of menstruation, and who was artist in residence at St Andrews in 2020. Although impacted by a university strike and the Covid-19 pandemic, our collaboration has explored collections of menstrual culture in Scotland and broader questions of its representation, reflecting on how established symbols with other connotations – notably the ceremonial red gown at the University of St Andrews – might provide a way of thinking about menstrual in/visibility. In this article we reflect on how these histories might be both present (institutionalised) and absent (when not on display). This paper presents the first stage of our findings, in which the artist reflects on their first visit to St Andrews prior to the strike and pandemic, in relation to historical and contextual materials we located together.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalOpen Library of Humanities
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

The authors would like to thank the University of St Andrews, the University Estates team, the University Feminist Society and LGBTQIA+ student group, Kingdom Vineyard church, University of St Andrews Special Collection, Proquest, the two anonymous peer reviewers, and the editors.


  • Contemporary Art
  • Feminist Art History
  • 1990s Feminism
  • Scottish women's movement
  • Menstruation


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