Rupi Kaur: Changing the Narrative of Femininity
She isn’t just a writer or artist. In her Instagram bio, Rupi Kaur calls herself the “mother” of poetry with collections such as “Milk and Honey” and “The Sun and Her Flowers.” There is a palpable intimacy to this notion—she birthed these poems; they flow directly from her, not simply from a pencil or a keyboard.
New York Times bestselling author Rupi Kaur uses poetry, photography, and art to explore femininity through a lens of empowerment. She transforms the language of victimization into words cloaked in equal vulnerability and strength.
After spending years submitting individual writing pieces to be published and facing endless rejections, she decided that her submissions belonged together as a part of one cohesive collection. Using Amazon’s Createspace platform, and equipped with a degree in rhetoric studies and a love for print and graphic art, she self-published “Milk and Honey” in 2014.
She reclaims her voice amidst the process of loss, trauma, and healing in “Milk and Honey.” The collection is divided into four sections—“The Hurting”, “The Loving”, “The Breaking”, “The Healing.” Her poems subtly detail both personal and universal experiences that all women face.
The format of each page is artfully crafted; only a few stanzas occupy the white page, and the rest is left purposefully blank, or complemented by a small sketch. She drew each sketch herself, and the illustrations are “meant to push the emotion of the poem a bit further” (@rupikaur_ Instagram, May 9th, 2018).
The text fills minimal space, and its conciseness demands emotional attention.
She ends each poem with a dash followed by a brief description of the previous poem, thereby placing the title at the end, as if it is a signature on a letter. Her writing structure oscillates between stanzas and paragraphs, showcasing the chaos in her mind and the candidness with which she writes.
Her language is characterized by simplicity and precision, often devoid of capitalization and punctuation other than periods. These words represent her unfiltered stream of consciousness. Of this grammatical simplicity, she says, “I also feel there is a level of equality this visuality brings to the work. A visual representation of what I want to see more of within the world: equalness,” (rupikaur.com). Even on her website, she doesn’t apply standard grammatical conventions, choosing to say “equalness” instead of “equality,” regardless of its absence from the Dictionary.
She gives insight into moments of abuse and heartbreak and tragic loss, and by doing so, inverts a gendered power dynamic intrinsic to her life and society. In the wake of traumatic experiences, she doesn’t vindicate the person, or act as a victim, she demands respect. Her words speak to a devastating struggle, but they are nevertheless triumphant, and a cry to all readers to demand equal respect.
Kaur is an artist of accessibility, presenting the most complex feelings into clear, concise words. Her writing speaks to a breadth of human emotions and pain—the toxic way we compare ourselves to others, the struggling of incorporating our pasts into our present lives, abandonment, heartbreak, and more.
Ever since her mother told her, “draw your heart out” when she was five years old, art has also been an essential part of her life. In addition to the illustrations in her poetry collections, she uses photography as a storytelling tool. In a photo series called Anatomy: A Study of Body and Nature, Kaur aims to combat the way female genitalia is over-sexualized and exploited for pleasure. She uses photography to rewrite this narrative of exploitation, emphasizing the naturalness and humanness of female genitalia through photos of fruit cut in half.
In light of Milk and Honey, she directed and posed as the subject in a photo series called “ferment and cleanse,” which gives powerful insight into the universal experience of healing. The ingredients “milk and honey” help us visualize the process of transforming pain into strength. The first few photos show her fermenting in honey. Fermentation, the chemical breakdown of a substance, encapsulates her emotional unraveling, but also the rebuilding of her strength. The subsequent photos show her in a bath of milk, as she allows her to be rejuvenated while maintaining a sense of transparency and vulnerability. She doesn’t let her pain consume her, and she doesn’t swallow it, either— rather, she lives through it by reclaiming it.
Kaur’s artwork, writing, and photography manifest as an active embrace of what is natural. By exposing her most vulnerable self, she triumphs all bodies and all emotions. She intertwines what is beautiful with what is natural—our authentic selves—comprised of feelings that we have been conditioned to repress, yet feelings that foster resilience and growth.
Author: Caroline Geithner
Caroline is a current English major at Georgetown University with a passion for writing, psychology, traveling, and photography. Growing up just outside of New York City, she spent many of her weekends in high school exploring the city and now does the same in Washington D.C. She tutors underprivileged children in Washington D.C. and has become passionate about children’s equal access to education, including gender barriers that disadvantage young girls.