As a self-proclaimed Social Justice Artist, Sanna Legan’s art shows she cares. Her projects are designed with an intent to critique perceived injustices, engage viewers with provoking thoughts, and introduce them to a perspective they may have never considered, her art style leaving viewers captivated and empowered.
A quick scroll through Legan’s Barbara Kruger-esque website shows why her work intrigues many, revealing projects of an artist grappling with issues many young women face today, in eye-catching, visually inventive ways such as addressing eating disorders and the pressure to stay silent about sexual assault via creatively adorned corsets and destigmatizing menstruation by bedazzling a tampon, amongst other projects.
“Majority of my art is based on women’s rights and feminism because as a woman growing up in a male-dominated society, the anger has to get out somehow,” Legan said. “My art says, ‘This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.’”
Through the National YoungArts Foundation – an organization that nurtures the talents of emerging high school artists — her work most recently caught the eye of the White House, sending Legan face to face with the antithetical avatar of her artwork, Donald Trump.
Before DC and Trump, Legan grew up in Santa Monica to “a super artsy family.” At age 11, she enrolled in New Roads, a school she felt nurtured her artistic voice without being patronizing.
“[They] treat their students like adults, giving us the freedom to express ourselves,” she said. “That’s the ideology; their students can create something greater than themselves … It encourages me as an artist and thinker.”
Now a New Roads senior, Legan caught the White House’s eye by winning the 2018 YoungArts Winner in Visual Arts award.
Every year, YoungArts nominates 60 artists as U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts and 20 are chosen to receive the honor, which a press release describes as “one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students who exemplify academic excellence.”
The award is more than just any regular trophy or recognition milestones; besides prestige, the honor provides an artist-led performance and exhibition at the Kennedy Center, a Presidential medallion, and a high-profile, international audience in DC at the Hall of Nations (not bad to have on a resume).
Other YoungArts and U.S. Presidential scholar winners include Tony award winners, world-renowned musicians, and nationally recognized author’s.
Going to accept the award in person was a Sophie’s choice for Sanna; go and have your art displayed to international audiences to inspire others, but face an administration that you believe represents everything your art repudiates.
Eventually, she relented, saying her art is “nothing if not shared” and that the opportunity to empower others on a grand scale helped her decision.
Eventually, she came face to face with the president.
“It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Legan said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “When you’re in the presence of that much hatred and bigotry, to see someone who looks at me with such hatred because I’m a woman or Jewish, it’s a harrowing experience.”
When showing up to the event to meet Trump, Legan protested in her own, silent way; instead of formally dressing for the event, Legan wore a jumpsuit adorned with the names of women she considers to be feminist heroes. Trump, she says, was oblivious, cheering and waving to supporters.
“It was all a show to him,” she said. “ When he came out it was like a reveal. And his ignorance… just smiling, talking, like nothing is going wrong, like there’s not children in cages. Like my right to my body isn’t being ripped away from me. I was full heartedly sobbing the entire time.”
“All good art comes from anger,” she said. “And [meeting Trump and the administration] made me go, ok, my art is activism … this is war. This isn’t a time to sit back, not a time of silence, not a time of respect. This is a time for confrontation, a time for protest and standing up. This is what’s right and what I’m fighting for.”
Despite the circumstances of receiving the award, Legan says she’s grateful for the opportunity. Aside from the prestige and having her work shown in the Kennedy Center and Hall of Nations, it’s still the people her art moves that she creates for.
She said that at one of her art shows in DC, a fellow U.S. Presidential Scholar came up to Legan to thank her for art covering topics typically not discussed, tearfully thanking her for addressing eating disorders and talking to her about it.
“That’s who I make art for. Girls who feel alone. I know me and her and other scholars and more are the future, we’re inheriting the country and know what’s right and wrong and we’ll fight injustice. That makes me feel good about the future.”
Legan will be heading to Carnegie Mellon next year. For more information about Sanna Legan and her art, visit sannalegan.com