Art has not always been a space of equal opportunities for men and women to co-exist, inadvertently leading female artists to use their work as an expression of unconfined femininity, the female experience, and concerns.
Beginning 1960s and 1970s, “feminist art” rose as a more curated form of art. Many women used modes such as painting, crafts, and the performing arts, which were crafted as "traditional for women," to end the sexism and oppression faced by them in art spaces. Feminist art utilized mainstream art forms to cater to the strength and multitude of the female experience, creating a movement that is still evolving with feminist artists striving to create pieces that speak for female voices.
Jenni Granholm, a Finland-based artist and photographer, has been devoted to portraying different facets of femininity through her enigmatic self-portraits. Her aesthetic, which femininity showcases various body parts entangled in pastel-coloured ribbons, is deliberately soft and subtle. It portrays the restraints and fears associated with femininity, and the freedom that adorns breaking such restraints.
Through her audacious and barefaced portrayal of femininity through her photography, Granholm pioneers the United Nations Sustainable Developmental Goals for Gender Equality. Her work strives to empower women through the empowerment of femininity - emphasizing that women do not need to adopt masculine gender norms to be empowered in society and that equality of the sexes lies in respect towards female experiences.
Granholm’s life circumstances and personal views have led to a theme where the body plays a central role in her art. Her compositions are deliberately uncomplicated and simple - where the ribbon plays the pivotal role of both a shackle and the desire to break free of it. Never showing her face in her photographs, Granholm’s use of pastel colours adds a definite touch of an innately feminine aesthetic.
The unashamedly feminist artist travelled to different parts of the world to attain a university-level education in the arts. She started her undergraduate degree in Photography in Australia, finishing her final year in Finland. Subsequently, she gained a Master’s in Digital Arts in London. Solo and group exhibitions of her work have been showcased in Australia, Russia, Finland, Northern Ireland and the U.K.
In a statement to Argentea Gallery, Granholm shared that her art stems from personal experiences and explores intense psychological themes. “I am interested in the invisible struggles everyone faces and so I create images that are deeply emotional and reflect an inner turmoil,” she said. She also attributes the semi-autobiographical nature of her work to the creation of a light, soft and feminine aesthetic that shows “women are already bound, living under the weight of expectations and demands.”
Hush and Legacy are two interconnected series of works that perfectly capture her artistic vision. According to Granholm, each of the series “deal with similar themes of restraint, entanglement and the desire for freedom coupled with the fear of it but from slightly different perspectives.”
Typically, Hush reflects a lifestyle led in secrecy and solace - of which there seems to be no escape. The series portrays longing and sorrow, with a sprinkle of hope and desire. However, true to its name, photographs encapsulating Hush lack the freedom of breaking through the shackles. In the images, Granholm remains captivated, captured, silenced - and hushed.
“This decision to remain keeps you suppressed. You have been silenced, but you have also become the silence,” she said in the statement explaining her vision.
Similarly, Legacy deals with the burdens of carrying expectations that stop one from being liberated - a feeling all too familiar with traditional female roles in society. The series portrays the self-destructive patterns that one is aware of but is unable to break. Through the images, Granholm also explains the importance of ribbons as a motif in her work. Ribbons have significant symbolic meaning in both series, “representing both the harnesses that hold us in place, keeping us stuck, and also the anguish we carry,” Granholm explained. “It might be us keeping them, or it might be someone or something else putting them around us. Often it is both together.”
Feminist art has and continues to serve as an important catalyst for gender equality. As the art form is perpetually evolving, artists like Jenni Granholm continue to harness their creativity powerfully and bring a positive change in female discourse. Women’s use of creative outlets to express themselves and tell their stories, inspire change and advocate for equality, pushes the world towards becoming more inclusive and equitable.