I met Una in 2017 when she came to my studio for her portrait photoshoot after winning the title of Ms Leather South Africa. Ive added a selection of her portraits here.
Women Who Create is an ongoing portraiture project all shot in B&W in my studio in Woodstock, Cape Town. I love to connect with other creatives and see what motivates them and find out what is behind there work.
I met Erin for the first time when she came into my studio in June for her portrait in the series Women Who Create.
I didn’t ever think about the hands of oil painters but they must get super dirty or be super dry from all the turpentine cleaning, for this reason Erin wears latex gloves when she works and I asked her to wear them for her portrait.
My work is very personal. I work a lot with nature as a subject matter to communicate how I feel and experience life, my concerns and fears.
Flowers and fruit, specifically are interesting to me as they are temporary and hold a lot of meaning for me. The process of something living and dying and the delicate balance between the two, often overlapping.
Recently, I have been experimenting with texture and application, often resulting in more abstract work. I am trying to set less rules for myself. Trying to focus on the present and letting the outcome be secondary. This is challenging for me as I tend to focus on the past or future.
I would like to explore more abstract work while still spending time with my first love, still life. I am interested to see if I can bring them together.
What is your all time favorite quote?
“I’ll go if I don’t have to talk.” – Elaine
Do you have pet peeves?
Your worst trait?
What is/are your greatest extravagance/s?
Travel and takeaway coffees.
Your greatest fear?
What defines your idea of happiness?
Being able to be present.
Who are your real life heroes?
People who do what is right even if it’s to their own detriment.
What do you think is overrated?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“I love you” and “sorry”.
When and where are/where you happiest?
Walking while listening to music, sleeping and studio.
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you do to help put you into your optimal creative space?
A drink and mood chosen music
What does your (physical) creative space look like?
A mess usually.
When creating what is your biggest frustration?
Concentration and impatience.
Name a few quirks that others may not know about you?
I hate being barefoot, mainly inside. ; I talk to myself. ; I do not like the feeling of fitted clothes against my body.
When you’re in your ultimate creative space what word would you use to describe the experience?
Erin Chaplin was born in Durban, Kwazulu Natal in 1988. Chaplin is a self-taught painter. She works mainly with oil medium. She has had two solo exhibitions at Chandler House’s, Voorkamer Gallery, Outgrowth (2017) and Nice for What (2018). Chaplin participated in Everard Read Cape Town’s Cubicle Series, August (2019).
Chaplin currently lives and works in Cape Town.
I found out about Hannah Pads after writing up a short article on reusable sanitary towels that were being produced by a small NGO in Tanzania. I was browsing around other makers of similar products and came up with the Hannah Pad website and Instagram feed.
I made contact with Martinette who founded Hannah Pad five years ago and asked if we could do an interview for the blog about her knowledge around menstruation.
You spoke a lot about your own experiences and those of others with endometriosis, hormonal issues, PCOS and fertility. How do you think menstruation plays into these things?
Our menstruation is our monthly health report card, and sadly one that we do not get taught to pay attention to. It has recently been classified as the fifth vital sign for females, and that is how important it is. When we educate ourselves about what is deemed as normal, in terms of flow, colour, and associated symptoms ( i.e. pain, bloatedness, cravings, mood swings etc.), we can find the reasons why we are experiencing these symptoms. When we know WHY, we can do something about it, rather than just either accepting it as our lot as women, or by treating the symptom. There are fabulous women to follow on blogs and social media, who bring such amazing information and research to the table. I will mention a few names that have meant a lot to me: Lara Briden ( The Period repair Manual); Lisa Hendrickson-Jack ( The Fifth Vital Sign); Anna Cabecca ( The Hormone Fix); Lucy Pearce ( Moon Time) and our local mom and Daughter duo… Hormonal Harmony teaching women to practice FAM ( Fertility Awareness Method).
Menstruation can be a lonely walk for women: monthly pain, mood changes and other physical symptoms. What are your thoughts on menstrual wellbeing? How can we make it better?
By creating an awareness of what is deemed as normal, we also flag something as a problem when it does occur. And by more and more women seeking for answers, more and more women will start telling their friends and family members. We do not have to accept pain and heavy bleeding as our lot in life. There are ways to cure the causes.
What, in your experience dealing with menstruation through your business, have you learned about women’s experiences with menstruation?
We are all so different. Some bleed very light, some very heavy, some only 3 days, some 7 days. For some bleeding is a relief every month, for others, it’s yet another month where they did not conceive. I share their pain, I know that pain… I was there. That is what inspires me to keep on going, as we need more and more people to know that there are solutions when we find the real cause.
The above image shows the beautiful and discreet packaging that your set of Hannah Pads comes in for your convenient storage.
I was super interested in what you said about retrograde bleeding, can you tell me more?
I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2004. At that stage there was little information available online in terms of the causes of the condition, and apart from surgery, the treatment for it as well. One cause that has still not been proven was Retrograde Bleeding.
In retrograde menstruation, menstrual blood containing endometrial cells flows back through the fallopian tubes and into the pelvic cavity instead of out of the body. These endometrial cells stick to the pelvic walls and surfaces of pelvic organs, where they grow and continue to thicken and bleed over the course of each menstrual cycle. This is what convinced me not to use the menstrual cup when sleeping at night, even though this has not been a proven fact yet.
You spoke about enabling women, enabling your own daughters. What would you pass on to others as a means of support. I love how through generations support can be passed down.
Yes, that is my passion, to share what I have learned, sometimes the hard way. My daughters ( ages 13, 9 and 7) are involved in my business Hannahpad. They help fold pads, I of course pay them. But as we fold, we talk about female matters. I have put together a moon kit for my oldest daughter, to bless her when her first cycle starts, and welcome her into womanhood. She has read the book by Lucy Pearce “Reaching for the Moon” written for teens to understand the changes in their bodies and moods, and to work with their flow.
Vaginal steaming is an ancient practice which enables women to clean out every month, to ensure that you are properly clean after your cycle, as there often is blood that remains entrapped, and can cause chronic female problems. So yes, I want to learn this practice, and teach it to my daughters, and whoever else would like to learn. This is also a treatment modality that is used with great success for painful and heavy periods, even for PCOS and endometriosis, and you can do this in the privacy of your home every month. Another aspect that I want to teach my daughters is FAM… Fertility Awareness Method. This does not only teach you when you are fertile (so as a contraceptive method, or a method to conceive), but it teaches you about your body, about what YOUR normal is.
Find out more about vaginal steaming / Yoni steaming here.
What have you learned about the tie between synthetic and natural menstruation products?
When I was diagnosed in 2004 with endometriosis, I started doing research into the causes. One that I found was retrograde bleeding, and the other was the chemicals in the commercial disposable sanitary products on our markets worldwide. These include chlorine ( bleach), plasticizing chemicals like BPA and BPS, Phthalates, crude oil plastics, fragrances, odour neutralisers etc, I go into great depth into this on my website, see here.
According to a draft report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxin (Chlorine) is a serious public health threat that has no “safe” level of exposure! The FDA’s official stance regarding trace amounts of dioxins is that there are no expected health risks associated with trace amounts of dioxins in tampons… Naturally Savvy notes that 10 years ago, House Representative Carolyn Maloney introduced legislation that would have required research into the potential health risks of any ingredient used in feminine hygiene products, including endometriosis, cervical, ovary and breast cancers. Unfortunately, the legislation did not pass, and it does not appear that any such research has been done.
You spoke about Toxic Shock Syndrome and how it is still actually affecting women. What have you heard?
Have you read the story of the model Lauren Wasser who lost both her legs due to TSS ( Toxic Shock Syndrome)? She now dedicates her life to educate and prevent this terrible disease. Read her story here.
According to Dr Mercola it’s important to remember that tampons can create a favourable environment for bacteria growth. Micro tears in the vaginal wall from tampons allow bacteria to enter and accumulate. One recognized risk from tampon use is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which may be caused by poisonous toxins from either Staphylococcus aureus (staph) or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. TSS can be a life-threatening condition, so it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms. Should any of the following symptoms arise while using tampons during your period, make sure you seek medical help:
- Sudden high fever
- Low blood pressure
- Muscle aches
- Redness of your eyes, mouth and/or throat
- Rash on palms or soles of feet
Sri Lankan women generally don’t swim. They wear long robes covering their legs and ankles. Swathes of fabric, Indian sari-style encase the body, making it hard to swim even if they knew how. Men, on the other hand do swim. They do this from an early age and many become fishermen. The 2004 tsunami, which hit many coast lines, including Sri Lanka, wiped out more women than it did men and it nearly killed the already fragile cottage industry of Beeralu lace making.
Recently I spent some time in the south of Sri Lanka. It’s an area known for its lace making women who sit, under the palm trees, close to the beach, weaving and throwing their bobbins: creating magic. The process of making Beeralu is fascinating. I found it rather unbelievable and wanted to see it for myself.
Lace making, which is over 600 years old in Sri Lanka, is considered an important part of local heritage on the island even though it has Dutch and Portuguese origins. It is mostly housewives who make the lace as a side income. Their husbands are out fishing and between cooking, cleaning and child minding these women work on a complex and intricate craft. It is a craft passed down from women to their female family members and friends. Lace is a specialized craft, one which is slowly slipping away. I had to go in search of it and only found three local ladies who were still practicing, teaching and selling.
Leila, the lace shop owner, has a weathered face. Our translator pointed at her vast array of awards while she stood by silently but persistently pushing the lace in my direction. She was proud and also a dogged sales lady. Not many tourists look for lace anymore. It may be a dying art here and sales are needed badly in order to support their meagre side incomes through hard and long labour at the loom.
We walk out of her little shop and sit with the other few lace-making ladies working in the light breeze which comes off the ocean across the road. The intricate lace design is drawn onto graph paper and then attached to the kotta boley (a paper wrapped cylindrical chunk of coconut husk) with pins which mark out the full pattern. Hundreds of silver topped pin heads create a maze soon to be spun and knotted into a detailed textile. The weaver guides the fine cord or thread around each pin manually, using an often hand carved spindle made from local wood.
The use of the little bobbins is part of what gives the lace its name; in Sinhalese it is referred to as beeralu rende. The word beeralu is derived from the Portuguese word ‘bilro,’ (meaning bobbin), while ‘renda’ is Portuguese for lace.
Ranjeny, Leila and Marleny sit watching myself and the translator chat about the 2004 Tsunami. The ladies look down occasionally at what they’re doing but mostly they work from muscle memory, their hands speeding across the surfaces of the bobbins as they grab and push and twist until a fine beautiful textile begins to emerge.
Leila has been making lace since she was 10 years old. She teaches her two daughters to make lace and will most likely start teaching her grandchildren soon. The 3m long piece she has been working on has taken her one month. She’ll sell the length of lace for about $30.00 once she has finished it she says.
I asked her how many bobbins she had worked with at any one time. “I work with up to 50 bobbins sometimes. I’ll use them to make one single piece of lace work. But how does she possibly remember what she’s doing I ask? “I watch the marks on the paper”, she says simply, her bobbins click as they fall. Her hands are a blur but she still looks up at me.
Young people don’t like to do it anymore,” Lucky, my translator, tells me. “Some do it if they are without work or maybe have a little free time at home. After the tsunami not many people made lace anymore. Many people moved away, they moved inland. A lot of people became scared of the ocean”.