Two of my favorite things about visual artist Arvida Byström are her ability to defy creative boundaries and her refusal to be defined. Her strong disposition is a reminder to not take anyone’s shit, including those who inquire about your work. She creates her own world, where color shifts between pastels and bold hues, where gender is fluid and the human body is celebrated. Byström’s subjects are consistently memorable, each individual proud and doused in pigment, a striking motif throughout her work that is likely unintentional but rather a symptom of entering her technicolor dream.
You may have caught her on a rare moment in front of the camera for H&M’s latest campaign or perhaps you caught her work as part of the group show, QWERTY, that is currently running at Big Pictures Los Angeles (closing October 15). Regardless the acquaintanceship, she’s the type of creative that you’ll never forget. Get to know Secret Society photographer and influential creative Arvida Byström below.
LF: Hi Arvida! Please introduce yourself to our readers.
AB: My name is Arvida Byström. I’m a Swedish artist, recently moved from London to live in Los Angeles.
LF: You’re known as a model, a photographer, a filmmaker, and a musician. Which medium did you begin with, and how did you get into creating with all four?
AB: I was never first a model. I came through as a photographer and then because I’m fairly normatively pretty and been on certain Swedish model agencies as a teen (but never worked out because my hips were “too big” for the industry), and I’ve been taking self portraits at times, people shoot me as a personality, which in this weird world is a different thing than a model.
Moving image I moved into more since two of my exes are filmmakers. I made this video with my ex Claire, and since then I’ve kinda slowly been doing more of it.
Re: music, I’ve been interested in music production off to on, this is something me and my friend Katja Lindeberg have always been talking about, but sometimes been to scared to move into. During the course of a few years we’ve been supporting each other to do more and more in it, and she started a synthesizer group for female identified people in Stockholm, and just really started to do more stuff. I think I found that really inspiring, and then just clicking around on SoundCloud, and my friend Liv has been an inspiration too.
LF: How is your creative process for photography and film-making different from producing music? Do your processes ever overlap?
AB: I think they overlap. I feel they feed and help each other a lot. Its almost like I can’t put words to it because it is visual and audio and that isn’t words, does that make sense? Hah.
LF: Some viewers believe there is strong theme of innocence throughout your work, often juxtaposed with an evocation of sexuality. Is this intentional? If so, why, and if not, why do you think your work may be perceived this way?
AB: To me it is not true that I work with innocence and sexuality. Pink is seen as an innocent color, but isn’t inherently innocent; of course it is culturally seen as such, but the way I am intending to use it is not to show people innocence. Also, people are conditioned to think of female bodies as, at all times, sexual and I happen to work with a lot of bodies people perceive as female. Most of my work has nothing to do with sexuality or sex. It might play with gender, but that is not the same thing. I also think this is a way media loves to portray female artists. People LOVE to put my headlines as, “Arvida talking about sex” etc., which I think is lazy journalism.
LF: What does “femininity” mean to you?
AB: It’s just if something is coded to what we see as female. This to me is not the same as being a man or a woman or gender fluid. This is just an aesthetic that has been culturally tied to certain things.
LF: Through your art and your social media platforms it is clear that you are a major promoter of self-love and admiration. What do you love the most about yourself, physically, psychologically, or both?
AB: I think the thing about self love is not that there are specific things that are better than others, like “I love that I have x boobs;” it is more like “all boobs are cute!” It is just a body, cute and flawed at the same time and there is no right or wrong. Same with your mind. Being sensitive and anxious might be painful, but it is not a bad thing. It can make you a very great and empathetic person. Just as it can be nice not being an anxious person, because you know, it is heavy to be anxious!
LF: When did you realize you were a feminist? How has feminism shaped you as a person?
AB: My friend Katja introduced me to it as an 18 year old. I’d just been reading so much down the feminist, queer, intersectionality lane the past 6 years, so I don’t know. I mean it made me recognize certain things about myself and about other people. It made me realize I can’t be a saint and will be wrong, but can also learn from my mistakes and treat people better along the way. And it taught me a lot about relationships!
LF: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing right now, what would you be?
AB: Having part time jobs for 2 months then being depressed lying in bed. That is what I did before I could live off my art. That happens still sometimes though, but at least I don’t have to go to work being around people everyday. I really admire people that can do that, or maybe just don’t have a choice... life is hard!
LF: How fast do you live?
AB: Very, very slow.