Meet Bea Szenfeld, the Stockholm-based paper artist whose work is included in ‘Sleeping Beauty: Reawakening Fashion’

By Laird Borrelli-Persson

Photo: Joel Rhodin

The work of the Beckmans alum features in the Met's ‘Sleeping Beauty: Reawakening Fashion’ exhibition, the focus of this week's Met Gala

Editor’s Note: This interview with Bea Szenfeld was conducted in 2016 in connection with her ‘Everything You Can Imagine Is Real’ exhibition at Bikini Berlin. We’ve revisited and edited this story as an artwork she exhibited then is included in ‘Sleeping Beauty: Reawakening Fashion’.


Never coming up flat is the work of Bea Szenfeld, a Polish-born, Stockholm-based artist whose medium is paper. Szenfeld worked as a ceramicist and sculptor before pursuing a fashion degree at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm. After graduating, she landed a job in the industry. Quickly realising that working with commercial clothes was not her thing, she “jumped back to work with clothes in art.”

Inspired by the experimental garments she made at school, Szenfeld chose to work again with paper, a material, she said, that “has its own plan, its own life. I can do whatever I can to make it comfortable and to stay the way it was from the beginning,” she explains, “but still sometimes the paper just does stay. I don’t even know what it’s going to do. I love working with paper; it’s like having a coworker.” Szenfeld’s handcrafted pieces command attention, and space; in some cases she has been limited to displaying only the garments that could fit through a museum’s doors.

Photo: Joel Rhodin

Photo: Joel Rhodin

Each piece is handmade in an analogue process and is constructed using materials that can be found in any corner stationary or hardware store: scissors, tape, staples, bone folder, needle and thread, paper, sometimes a glue gun or drill. Some of Szenfeld’s pieces feature origami folds, others are accumulations of thousands of individual pieces, some separated by a small pearl. “I get a lot of help from my assistants, but I always do the last [bit]. I have to. The garments are so heavy that I really don’t know until we are done with all the pieces how I shall put it together.”

How to place Szenfeld’s work on the art-fashion continuum? The artist said she’s not thinking about selling her garments as she makes them. Still, she’s cognizant of the fashion system and she finds alternative (i.e., off the catwalk) ways to present her “collections,” which have been bought by collectors and worn on the red carpet – by Björk, of course! – and in music videos. (Check out Lady Gaga’s ‘Guy’. ) She has also collaborated with the Royal Swedish Ballet and the Eurovision Song Contest.

Photo: Joel Rhodin

Even when still, Szenfeld’s garments are never static: “Paper changes, I cannot do anything about it,” explains the artist, who is delighted when her garments are worn. At Eurovision, where dancers performed in her designs, there was, she said, “everything you needed to make the clothes be alive.” Still, she thinks exhibitions are important, especially in a world where there is so much manipulation of information and images. “It’s important that people can come to an exhibition and look really closely, [and realise] ‘Oh my God, it is done by hand!’ ”

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