Professional photographers and photographic artists Mirkku Merimaa and Niina Stolt started the #älämahdumuottiin / #breakthemold project so that no one would feel like they are wrong in any way or that they don’t belong. However, when starting out, they had no idea how big the project would become.
“When we took the first #breakthemold photos in summer 2017, we didn’t even think about building an international revolutionary, social empathy movement. We thought we would take these photos only as a one-off thing. During those two days, the 150 people who we shot convinced us that the project is necessary and that we need to take more photos,” tell the artists who are now preparing the first international #breakthemold, or #älämahdumuottiin in Finnish, photoshoot day and exhibition.
The #älämahdumuottiin / #breakthemold project is a social non-profit art project where people are photographed nude with a plastic mannequin. The mannequin symbolizes the unrealistic pressure and expectations most of us are exposed to. The project’s aim is to promote equality, tolerance, a sense of community and self-acceptance.
“With the project, we want to shake up ideas about how we ‘should be like’. We want so show people as they are: diverse, wonderful, miraculous and valuable,” describes Niina Stolt.
The project doesn’t shy away from discussing difficult topics, such as shame and feelings of inadequacy, with an empathic and participatory approach. The project questions the existing molds and encourages people to become visible. All the people in the project’s photographs are nude, which means that the participants take a huge leap and take down their actual and symbolic walls, stepping out to be seen as their bare self. “Not one of us fits the mold, and no one has to fit the mold,” Mirkku and Niina summarize.
Now, they are taking the first step towards making going global with the project: the founder pair is heading to New York with the project to undress Americans. In New York, Merimaa and Stolt will take more photographs for the #breakthemold project. The free photoshoot is open for all, and it will be organized on October 19, 2019 at the Center for Social Innovation in Chelsea. The center will also house the first international #älämahdumuottiin/#breakthemold exhibition on October 14–20, 2019.
“We are so excited to go to possibly the world’s most diverse city to shoot more photos for our #breakthemold project! At the same time, we’re a little nervous how New Yorkers will respond to the project as Americans have a much more complex relationship with being naked than us Finns,” say Mirkku and Niina.
The project started from the cooperation of two women from very different backgrounds and a dream to make people visible for themselves and others. Now, the project is transforming into a collective: an international social empathy movement. By now, 12 photographers in addition to Merimaa and Stolt have participated in taking a total of 1,200 #breakthemold photos.
In addition to the founders, the project includes the following professional photographers: Mari-Elina Lemmetty, Sari Muhonen, Emmi Virtanen, Maria Grönroos, Jenni-Maria Könönen, Mika Vallineva, Tiina Haring, Marc Sabat, Kati Latva-Panula, Mervi Sarenius, Reetta Muranen and Tiia Ennala.
“The project is important on so many levels! The #breakthemold project offers a chance for the photographic artists and people participating in the shoots to do something significant, to bravely surpass oneself, become part of something bigger and participate in a society-wide dialogue while changing the world,” say Merimaa and Stolt.
The photographs feature people of different sizes, ages, ethnicities and genders as well as cancer survivors, stoma patients, people with alopecia, people of different sexual orientations, little people, people recovering from mental health issues, people with eating disorders and people who have beat their eating disorders, people with physical disabilities and many, many others whose stories and motivation to participate are revealed as the project continues. On social media, many of the participants have shared their thoughts on why they participated and how the project affected them. You can find some excerpts here:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LduZyK4odgXCsEH1rBkOgtdo0JYaXaewDnqSkJ7XEZM/edit?usp=sharing
“In our work as photographers, we encounter people’s insecurities and see how merciless people are when they talk to themselves. We tried to come up with a way of helping people to accept, love and treat themselves better,” says Mirkku Merimaa, explaining the background of the project.
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We are in New York and available for interviews in person until October 22th. As of October 24th, 2019, interviews can be done via e-mail or Skype.. You can find press photographs here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/5c26xrgh1n6z3l2/AACif-xTAG7AOU55pGJYqCqda?dl=0
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