Fruit of the Womb
Arvida Byström uses bodies, fruits, wallpaper, and knickers to challenge and explore our sexualised world.
Arvida Byström’s work connects and redefines stereotypes and identities that otherwise tend to be kept separate. Those of “model” and “photographer,” for instance. Since the invention of the camera, the line has been pretty solid between the beholder and the beheld, but Arvida Byström takes both positions in her work. Like millions of young people around the world, she has her feet solidly planted in social and digital media, where selfies and status updates are king, but she brings her own perspective to it.
Working both in front of and behind the camera, and controlling how her images are distributed to hundreds of thousands of people on her Instagram account, she has built a platform that few photographers have achieved. She also models for brands like Monki and Adidas, and exhibits her work at galleries around the world. She sews mini knickers for objects that evoke the human form, like peaches and cherries, puts on live-streamed performances, builds installation pieces.
A recurring theme in all her work addresses the codes and visual grammar inherent in social media, and the ways that people both follow and question them. And the medium, for Byström, is very much the message. Digital art intermingles with classical photography, and an eye inspired by fashion photography presents body parts and objects in subtly unorthodox poses and situations.
The exhibit “Inflated Fiction” at Fotografiska Stockholm revolved around femininity, identity, and gender norms, and made use of photography, wallpaper, carpeting, and all sorts of objects in resplendent shades of pink.
“It’s sort of a commentary on the fact that my feminine aesthetic is always read as being only about sex, which isn’t true at all,” she says.
“It’s about the asexuality in a lot of literal representations of sex. The feminine coding of sexual imagery is very subjective; there’s nothing natural or biological about the things we tend to associate with sex and I want to address that.”
Cellulite. Menstrual blood. Body hair. They all show up in her work, sometimes taking center stage. Biological norms that are often disregarded as a feminist or artistic gimmick, maybe even shallow activism focused solely on provocation. Arvida Byström wants to break down imagined barriers by being a presence in the highly commercial world of fashion, while simultaneously exploring femininity, sexualization, and visual formulae in her art.
“I’ve always been sort of on the outskirts of all the worlds where I’ve worked, except when I was a regular model as a teen, at an agency, which was horrible. You have to have the right body, the right face, the right weight; there are all these demands. I moved to London pretty early and I think that city is the only reason I can even do what I do. I was exposed to a lot more and punkier venues for art and fashion than I was in Sweden, she explains.
In a short period of time, she has managed to garner attention for a number of projects, like the book Pics Or It Didn’t Happen in 2017. It was made up of pictures of women’s bodies that for various reasons had been banned from Instagram, now immortalized on paper. That same year she was the face of a campaign for Adidas, where her unshaven legs led to a barrage of threats and hatred in her inbox. The fairly low-key campaign made waves around the world and went viral on both social and traditional media. Byström didn’t take much notice. She has gotten used to all kinds of attention.
“The internet has changed so much since I started posting stuff, for better or worse. Obviously there was bad stuff there before, too, but the internet is such a huge part of my life and I see both negatives and positives in the relationships that so many people have created, for instance.”
She’s shared pictures of herself online since the age of twelve, proving her evolving but consistent relationship with social media.
“In my Tumblr days, the internet was pretty different, and I’ve kind of seen that platform as a sort of education, something that has taught me so much and created a lot of wonderful relationships and community. Sure, the internet is very commercialized, but there’s a lot of good things there, too.”