Sanna Legan’s visual language is bold, provocative and unabashedly feminist
By Gary Walker
The election of Donald Trump, the Parkland mass shooting and a women’s movement so big it’s twice flooded streets across the globe — these are the cultural touchstones that have arguably set an entire generation of young people (even younger than millennials) into motion.
Among those teens, tweens and young adults who have raised their voices one way or another is Sanna Legan, a newly minted grad of New Roads School in Santa Monica and an emerging artist with a decidedly feminist style.
The National YoungArts winner makes elaborately beaded tampons to point out the hypocrisy of a society that idolizes luxury goods, yet demeans women for having their periods; she sows corsets to show how the female body is abused and objectified; and draws feminist icons like Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala and political activist Gloria Steinem for her Instagram.
Legan’s unapologetic brand of feminism led her to being chosen as a U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts earlier this year, one of the most prestigious national academic honors that a high school senior can receive. As part of the honor —which included an awkward meeting with 45 (“I could not be quiet… So I decided to use my art and create a feminist jumpsuit, adorned with the names of my female heroes,” she wrote on Instagram) — her work was displayed at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where she recreated a life-sized model of a Miss America gown out of immigration papers. Like her custom-made corsets (with messages like “Shhh” stitched into them to underline the oppression of women’s bodies), the piece is a poignant statement on the state of U.S. immigration and our politics of beauty.
“I believe that I am part of a new wave of feminism that has an activist streak. I use art as a way to fight back. I really want to redefine art,” Legan said. “My art is less about questioning and more about confronting.”
New Roads Head of School Luthern Williams, who’s known Legan since middle school, says her work reflects the character of her generation.
“What I see in Sanna and her peers is how they question society. They feel a responsibility to question and to change the world through their art and their passion,” he said. “We’re living in a time where adults have failed them, and the only limits are their power to imagine and their ability to collaborate.”
Loni Johnson, a selection panelist for the National YoungArts Foundation, said Legan stood out not only for her exceptional portfolio, but also for her personal charisma and dedication to art as a vehicle for self-expression.
Legan, who is now off to study interdisciplinary sculpture at Carnegie Mellon University, said the current social and political zeitgeist offers people of her age the opportunity to shape the future politically, culturally and socially.
“We’re the ones that are going to be inheriting this country. I was taught that I can create my own future, and I could not be more excited,” she said. “For the first time in a long time young people are being given a platform. This is the first time in my lifetime we’re being taken seriously. We have a lot to say.
I have a lot to say, and I’m ready to say it.”
Visit sannalegan.com or follow @artistsanna on Instagram.