Artist, photographer, model and challenger of gender norms, Arvida Byström creates art that speaks to everyone. Upfront and honest in its expression, it makes you question old structures and formats, as well as how you see the world
Led purely by her creativity and curiosity, 26-year-old Arvida Byström makes art that does not try to censor or make bodies prettier. She lets them exist just the way they are.
Byström is currently in the spotlight with her first solo exhibition Cherry Picking, at Gallery Steinsland Berliner in Stockholm. The show examines femininity in the digital age, its name a poetic metaphor for the ambiguous act of intentionally picking the most desirable cherries from the hypothetical cherry tree – in other words, selecting individual points to confirm a thesis of yours while ignoring other information. It could be considered a kind of selective attention, something done both consciously and unconsciously in our society.
The aesthetic of Byström’s art quickly catches your eye, manifested as it is in motives, arrangements, light settings and, of course, Byström’s preferred palette of pastel shades. They’re all aspects that, historically, have often been coded as feminine. Byström admits she has always had a thing for pink: “It’s a colour that, since childhood, I have had a hard time fending off. I’ve come back to it in a very strong and wide variety of ways during different periods of my life. I started using Tumblr by chance when I was 19 and then steadily ended up being drawn to feminine aesthetics.”
Her choice of colour palette and aesthetic seem to be in tune with her personal style, too, and she opens up enthusiastically about her love for Instagram accounts dedicated to the runways of the 1990s, as well as those that post photographs from the early 21st century featuring Paris Hilton, Juicy Couture or early-2000s Dior. Regarding fashion, Byström also admits to having a soft spot for Whyred dresses. “I’ve got a dress of theirs that I’ve had since I was 16. It looks a bit Molly Goddard, it’s magic,” she says. “I love the blue dress that I got to wear for this shoot, too. It’s to die for.”
Another aspect of Byström’s art is the sexual connotations her aesthetics often have. She points out that her art is often read as being about sex and sexuality, as feminine and queer bodies have been sexualized to such an extent it’s now hard to look at them without assuming that they’re just about sex. It’s a subject she finds interesting purely for that reason.
Byström also often uses herself as the model in her art, playing with the conditions of visual media and identity, something she started doing back in her teens. In the beginning, it was about being too shy to photograph others combined with feelings of frustration and wanting to understand how the world saw her. Nowadays she uses a different approach. “In one way, I think it’s interesting to be transparent with who is in front of the camera and the identity of who is taking the photograph,” she says. “In my selfies I often use a mirror, so that you can see that I’m the one taking the photographs as well being the subject. It shows the dichotomy of being a feminine creature in today’s world – people want you to be independent and even when you are, it’s easy to get stuck in old patterns regarding what the male gaze has constructed as sexy. It’s like anxiety and confirmation all at the same time.”
Being born during the rise of the digital age Byström welcomes the omnipresence of the internet and social media: “It means everything to me.” She finds comfort among the online community when depressed, with the internet also providing a space where she can explore her artistry. In fact, it’s where she started off displaying her art and it’s where she found her genre and the context in which she still exists and expands.
Over the years, Byström’s work has often been talked of as art that breaks free from norms by showing things that are normally taboo in a positive light, such as bodies, body hair and period blood. But she’s clear that she doesn’t consider all norms to be bad. “To break free from norms should not be an end in itself,” says Byström. “However, there are many things that can make you feel bad or make people around you feel rubbish. When that happens, we can question if that norm needs an update. Sadly, I don’t think there is a game plan of how it should be done.”
Even though Byström does not have a solution for how it should happen, she’s already made a big contribution to the debate about how media, society and culture influence the way we see the world. Through her art, she challenges us to investigate how we view ourselves as well as others, and makes us question how we construct our identities.
# All by WHYRED