June 19 is sure to have a number of events celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Iceland, but perhaps one of the most unique ceremonies will be the burning of 100 candles in the shape of women’s breasts.
No bra, no shame
Created by Icelandic artists and friends Harpa Rún Ólafsdóttir and Elín Anna Þórisdóttir, the candles are more than just a quirky way of representing women. The idea for the candles stemmed from a discussion Harpa and Elín had about many women’s shame or hesitation in going braless in public, and they wanted to create a piece of art that celebrated feminine pride. Harpa came up with the idea of using breasts for moulds, while Elín’s expertise was the actual making of the moulds.
But just whose boobs will they be setting aflame? The artists recruited women to make casts of their breasts via a Facebook group, which included an instructional video on how to make casts of one’s breasts at home. Harpa and Elín went all around Reykjavík dropping off casting materials, and in no time at all, they had moulds from 100 Icelandic women. The artists aimed to be as inclusive as possible in their casting. “We decided that if you are living as a woman and share the same experiences of inequality that we face as women, you were free to send us your breasts, non-breasts or whatever form they take,” Harpa explained. “The moulds of course come in all shapes and sizes, from all types of women spanning a wide range of social class, status and professions.”
The candles have been likened by others to the #FreeTheNipple campaign, which involves women revealing their nipples on social media and, increasingly, in public in a push for equality and shifting gender norms regarding body censorship. Harpa and Elín, though they support #FreeTheNipple, wanted to do something separate and slightly more conceptual, and they say they have already received a lot of support for their project so far. “And then,” Harpa added, “there are some people that think we’re weird!”
For the June 19 performance, ‘Igniting the flame in our fellow women’, Harpa and Elín received a grant from the Committee of the 100-Year Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage (Framkvæmdanefnd um 100 ára afmæli kosningaréttar kvenna). The candles will be standing on a table in City Hall—one hundred, of course, to represent the hundred years women have been able to vote in Iceland. The candles come in an array of colours, “to reflect the individuality and diversity of each woman,” Harpa explained. “They stand close together and form a beautiful unity.”
For the ceremony, the Katla Women’s Choir will walk in and light the candles while singing “Brennið þið vitar.” “The flame symbolises the feminist flame we wish to ignite in the hearts of our fellow women. It also symbolises a warning that this flame can never die out.” The song, whose title translates as “Burn, You Lighthouses,” also centres on light and unity, as it portrays an epic tale of Icelandic sailors returning to land together, guided by lighthouses. “The lighthouse is the guiding light, leading the way to equality,” Harpa elaborated. “Women are strong together and we can never give up.”
The candles will be left to burn, eventually melting together as a single wax sculpture and a powerful image of multicoloured solidarity.
Past works and future flames
While Harpa and Elín intend to use the candles they currently have purely for the anniversary ceremony, they are considering selling the candles in the future. “People can then light a breast-flame if they feel particularly inspired by something, like an empowering pat on the shoulder,” Harpa said. “For instance, lighting one after doing something amazing like giving birth or getting a new job.” The artists are also considering doing recreations of the ceremony in other countries.
Elín, in the past, has focused on portraying feminism in video performances, sculptures and painting, while Harpa has experimented conceptually with illustrations and sculptures of skulls. They both anticipate future collaborations given all the positive attention these candles have received so far.
But no matter what they decide to do, we can expect to see more peculiar pieces coming from both Harpa and Elín. Harpa says: “Our future is, artistically speaking, looking fun.”
The ‘Igniting the flame in our fellow women’ ceremony will be held on June 19, 17:00 at Reykjavík City Hall.
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