2017. The year of the woman.
In a year that started with the debauchery that is the Trump presidency, followed by the Women’s March and finally a sense of urgency to fight for not only gender equality, but a woman’s right to choose, be heard, say NO, and the earnestness to spotlight feminism.
We also cannot forgot,
As I sit here, just writing out the words “me too,” gives me chills.
The millions of women around the world who are silenced is louder than anything I have ever heard.
What is it to be a woman today? We have to be strong. Independent. Feminine to societal norms. We HAVE to be a shit ton of things.
It’s not surprising that feminism has remained in the spotlight. And yet, even in 2017, there are basic questions about feminism that continue to confound people. Questions about sex, love and power.
In the midst of all of this I have found expressionism through art and conversation with my good friend Melle Skärfstad. Better known in our friend group as Unicorn or the Ice Princess, she is the epitome of the word feminism; strong, beautiful, creative and unapologetically herself.
Her voice is heard not only through the movement of her body, as she practices yoga every day, but through her art work, which is the basis of the female anatomy and strength.
I am so excited to have her on the blog today and to share with you a little bit about who she is, her thoughts on feminism, gender equality and what her art stands for. Her work surpluses creativity through color, textures, patterns and beauty and I can’t wait for all of you to get to know her better!
Name: Melle Skärfstad
Where were you born? In the countryside of Västerås, Sweden
Where do You Live? Barcelona
What you do for a living?
Working as an artist, studying studio arts in Barcelona and teaching yoga
How did you get into art?
I’ve always been creative and started drawing and painting at a very young age, working with clay as well, I’ve always loved creating with my hands. I was riding horses professionally for many years prior to working with art and was using painting as a way to relax on the side. After a severe accident at a horse show I think I went through a lot of changes in my life, it was like a wakeup call. After that I decided to move to San Diego to study art and put the show jumping career (horse riding) aside.
Where you go to art school?
I studied fine arts at San Diego State University, School of Art and Design and right now I am attending an art program in Barcelona where artists from all over the world study and work in a shared studio space. It is very inspiring.
What kind of art do you do? How would you describe it?
I work a lot with the human body and issues related to how society views the body in general, especially women, through lots of different mediums. I started as a painter years ago but now I’m working with installations and video as well as my main focus where I combine photography with painting. There are some new projects that I’m working on that question social norms and normality as well as existential questions.
What is a signature element to your art? The one thing that when people look at your art, know Melle did that.
Feminine energy. Though I don’t really believe in getting stuck with certain styles, I’m trying to break free from that; I don’t want to be labeled and put in a certain box. I know a lot of artists that succeeded with certain projects and then just continue working within that style or concept, even if they have other more interesting projects and ideas. Of course it happens naturally for some artists and especially painters to find their own style, but I also feel that within that concept we get more stuck in the idea of who made the work and not letting it speak more for itself.
Where does your inspiration come from?
From everywhere in life; personal experiences and from what is happening around me and in the world. I am really interested in human connections and how they rely on social norms. I would say psychology and philosophy theories inspires me as well. Right now I am reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which is a book that is meant to prepare the student for death, or for life before death and for the days between death and rebirth. It is a very interesting book and I’m working with a project inspired by it. It is an installation of clay sculptures experimenting with the negative spaces of the human body and exploring what we are made of and what fills the spaces when we are alive and what is left of us when we die.
You often use the female anatomy in many of your pieces. What does this symbolize? Have you always drawn off the female anatomy for inspiration?
I have always loved the female form but it became more prominent when I was living in the United States. Coming from such a liberal and gender equal country, Sweden, and seeing how sexualized women’s bodies are in the States and other parts of the world brought up a lot of emotions. It started as a celebration of the female body. Now, since I have moved back to Europe I have explored other ideas as well, I’m reading more into queer theory and trying to work around gender issues.
How do you feel about the #metoo campaign?
I am very passionate about this topic. Personally the campaign has brought up a lot for me. I have been through sexual abuse myself, and it is not until now I can feel that I can grow stronger from it and speak up and I see more women do the same. We need to stop this. I think it is critical that we talk about these issues. So many women are ashamed; I used to be one of them. I think one important thing to do is to change how we see it; we are always talking about how many women have got abused and never about how many men abused women. I am tired of being a victim.
Around this time last year I made a video installation called “cat call” which basically is meant to be an experience for the viewer. You enter the installation and are surrounded by 4 blank walls, the room is dark and then you hear a voice, someone is cat calling you and it’s footage of men focused at you, then from another wall, and it continues and get worse and worse, louder and louder. I got all the material that I used for the piece through asking women around me about their personal experiences, it was heart breaking hearing all their stories. It is an intense piece that I am very proud of; I hope to be showing it somewhere again in the near future.
How do you think your art breaks gender conformity?
As I was talking about earlier I am now reading more into queer theory. It is super interesting and I am applying it more to my own work.
Before I talked about wanting to desexualize women, but I don’t think that is what I meant. I want to celebrate all kinds of bodies and beings, break the stereotypical gender roles and what that brings to sexuality.
It’s more about empowering every individual. It is beautiful and great if you choose to connect with your sexuality as well as if you choose not to.
I am also working with a project that questions mainstream sexuality. Especially how we see it today, sex sells and it has made most people get a skewered picture of what it is and how it should be. Which I think leads to a lot of different problems on many levels; from abuse to women that never reach orgasms.
What project are you working on now?
I’m always working with a lot of different projects at the same time. As I mentioned earlier I am working on a project inspired by the Tibetan book of the dead, as well as the project working with sexuality. I always have a million projects up in the air.
Tell us about your collaboration with Ted X and their #TheBraveYou campaign.
They emailed me this summer asking me if I wanted to be a part of the art show that would open at the night of the Ted Talk Women Barcelona event. I made three new pieces from my series “Layers” and it is right now showing in Mazda Space, Barcelona for a few more weeks.
What does the word feminist mean to you?
I am proud to say that I am a feminist; it is a state of mind. The word is loaded with a lot of tension for a lot of people but I think it is such an important word.
What personal experiences drew you to feminism? Why did you become a feminist?
I think everyone is born a feminist. It is patriarchal society that makes some people choose not to call themselves feminists, but that in its self makes it even more important to be a feminist. I must say that moving around the world all alone, living in different places and experiences coming with that has really shaped me to the person I am today. Have shed a lot of beliefs and thoughts off to become the person I am today. Sometimes I think I am seen as a radical person to the people I grew up with that have had different experiences than me.
What is your biggest focus within the movement towards global gender equality?
I think it’s just really important to spread information, art and love. To support each other and especially us women and anyone that chooses to connect with their femininity, we need each other. When you see a beautiful, empowered being, bring them up, tell them, and reach out! Spread the love. It’s so sad how society has made us compete with each other instead.
What constitutes obscenity and pornography? Where do they come from? What are their results? Are they always transgressive? What place do they have in art?
As I said before, sex sells. It’s sad because it is one form of sex that sells. Commercial pornography has ruined a lot in the view of sex and what it is, this has caused a lot of different problems. We need more alternative platforms and I feel like art plays an important role in this. Breaking the commercial side of sex. Art can afford to be radical, as an artist you can take advantage of the possibilities of expressing ideas that may seem more radical within other areas. Break the norms!
How does it feel to be a female artist in today’s world?
I can imagine it’s better now than it was years ago. But still, sometimes it is hard as a young woman to be seen as anything else than a sexual object within any fields. Sadly the art world is similar. But there is a strong female movement within art now, which is amazing. The future is female!
Why is uncensored expression/art more important now than it ever was?
Because you can’t always believe what the news is telling you. We need other ways than the mainstream to view the world; it’s a crucial aspect of expanding and exploring the mind.
To learn more about Melle, her art and where you can see future exhibitions please visit www.melleskarfstad.com
Special thank you to Melle for allowing me to pick apart her brain and showcase her art <3
All artwork is original and copyrighted by Melle.