The Beauty of (Icelandic) Women


The Beauty of (Icelandic) Women

Review by Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine. Photos courtesy of the museum.

After the collaborative ruminations of the Reykjavík Arts Festivals and personal speculations about what it means to be part of a creative team, the exhibitions “Woman” by Berglind Björnsdóttir and “State of Mind” by Anna Ósk Erlingsdóttir at the Reykjavík Museum of Photography brought me back to introspection.

Motivated by a desire to find answers to universal and intimate questions, I examined the female portraits in hope of discovering a mirror of myself somewhere.


“Enchantment” by Anna Ósk Erlingsdóttir.

First, I encountered the exhibition “State of Mind” by Anna Ósk in the museum’s lobby-space called Skotið.

Here, it should be noted that the exhibited photographs are different from the slideshow projected on the wall by the elevator. Take the time to watch the entire sequel of images; it's a rewarding experience for the senses.

The fashion magazine style of Anna Ósk's female portraits is quite confident and impeccable, giving the impression that she is a veteran of the profession. However, she actually took her first steps as a photographer in 2005.

The portrayals are of anonymous women, set in scenarios reminiscent of movie sets produced by the artist's imagination, which bring to mind a comparison with Cindy Sherman's staged self-portraits аs a social comment on gender stereotypes.

Despite the exquisite visual delight with an aura of old-fashioned Hollywood glamour, I found that the single-word titles of different mental states (desperation-melancholy-mystery-passion-peacefulness-inspiration-survival-pride-nostalgia-revelation-optimistic) did the artwork a disservice as it limited the imaginative merits of the viewer to a straight-jacket of interpretation. Besides, I failed to relate the mental state of each subject with the respective title.

All images were fabulous but the one adorning the exhibition's poster of a ballerina and flamingo in green, entitled “Enchantment”, is my personal favorite. With its romanticism and classical elegance it gives you the deceptive impression of being a Pre-Raphaelite oil-painting, instead of a photograph.

The difference between Anna Ósk’s exhibition and Berglind’s “Woman” is that the latter is accompanied by short quotes from the Icelandic women photographed—whose age ranges from 18 to 88—which reveal their aspirations as individuals.


Portrait of the actress Anita Briem by Berglind Björnsdóttir.

The collection of images will appear in an English-language book next fall, entitled Modern Icelandic Woman.

When I started writing this article, I realized that my memories from the exhibition are completely dominated by the strength of the women's words, instead of the visual merits of each portrait. I had to go back to the museum to try to separate the visual masterpieces from the textual ones.

It turned out to be impossible. The photographs are technically skillful but rather take a secondary role as mere illustrations to the narrative.

Contrary to “State of Mind”, the style is realistic and unaltered by photo gimmicks. The simplistic honesty of the images makes the audience easily relate with the portrayed subjects.

When I looked around, the black-and-white portrait of Halla Linker Aquire (writer, photographer, documentary filmmaker and former TV host), set in the cozy ambience of her home instantly caught my attention through the calmness and contentment of her gaze.

It is obvious that she is content with having fulfilled her dream, which, according to the text, was to travel and take photographs.

I couldn't help feeling slightly envious, but what struck me the most is her peculiar story: “I have lived in the US for 64 years or since I met my husband Hal Linker at Hotel Borg. We were engaged after 3 days and married a few weeks later.”

Days after I sееing the exhibition, my heart is still filled with the goddess-like images of beautiful women, who, regardless of their age and occupation made me proud to be one of them.

I keep thinking about Halla Linker Aquire's miraculous love of 64 years after a three-day acquaintance. How is this possible?

Being surrounded by an abundance of female friends, coworkers and neighbors, Icelandic and foreign, I find the contact with other women so effortless, inspiring and enriching.

If you would replace the images in the exhibitions with male portraits, the same quotes could easily have been made by men about the same dreams and longings: happy family life, fulfillment of professional dreams and making the world a better place.

If there is no fundamental difference between women and men, why am I not a believer in a love of three days which can last 64 years?

Perhaps I need to become a believer of male beauty and the honesty of human encounters first. As a friend of mine says, all of us have hurt someone or been hurt by another on the road to true love.

“Woman” by Berglind Björnsdóttir runs until September 2, 2012, and “State of Mind” by Anna Ósk Erlingsdóttir until August 14, 2012. Admission is free.

The Reykjavík Museum of Photography (Ljósmyndasafn Reykjavíkur) is located on Tryggvagata 15 (6th floor), 101 Reykjavík.

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine – kremenan (at)

Kremena Nikolova-Fontaine is a passionate collector of art books, dedicating every spare moment to learn more about art while dreaming about having an exhibition of her own. She studied graphic design at the School of Visual Arts in Akureyri from 1999 to 2002. In college she realized that she didn’t want to be a designer or commercial artist but rather an illustrator and writer. At the moment she’s experimenting with her first graphic novel.

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