Meet the incredible disabled artist who creates detailed surrealism paintings with her mouth and even beats able bodied painting in competitions.
Jennie Sjöström, 37, from Falkenberg, Sweden, was born with Arthrogryphos Multiplex Congenita – a condition that means she is unable to move her arms or legs due to having stiff joints.
To combat her condition, her mother taught her to grab and hold things with her mouth as a child, which she used to help her draw with pencils and crayons.
She was painting by the age of two and since then says people are constantly amazed by her talent as well as the intricate details she can produce.
Each canvass can take up to a week to finish but Jennie says it gives her ‘inner peace’ and while she is not able to live an physically ‘active life’, through painting she is as ‘free as a bird’.
Her surrealism inspired work is shown internationally in galleries, art fairs and museums under the name ‘IdJeLi’, as well as being sold privately from $500 upwards.
Jennie said: “In my daily life my condition means I need a lot of help from other people, but I feel free when I paint because I can manage doing it by myself, I am as free as a bird.
“Everything is possible on the canvas and my dreams, visions and feelings comes alive.
“It makes me calm and euphoric at the same time, it’s a good place to be within my inner landscape.
“I love to paint details and that demands a lot of concentration for my body and soul, sometimes I even forget to breathe.
“Dependent on the size of the canvas and what shape I am in, it takes several days for me to finish a painting.
“But, If I have headache or pain in my neck or jaw I can’t paint at all.
“To me it doesn’t matter in which way I express myself, my soul just needs to communicate with me and I’m letting it.
“I don’t paint because I can hold a brush with my mouth – I paint because my soul needs it.
“If I hadn’t learned to paint this way I probably had learn another way, I would have used my eyebrows, nose or ears if I had to.”
Jennie says she even outshines able bodied artists in competitions and feels the most achievement when she is judged for her work, not her disability.
She added: “I’m proud of everything I do, but some of the paintings mean more to me.
“For example, when I’m applying to juried exhibitions and they pick out my work without knowing that it’s created by me and my mouth.
“Those pieces have a special place in my heart because they show that I’m equal with everyone else and my paintings have talked by themselves – as it always should be.”
Jennie’s condition means she has been in a wheelchair since the age of one, despite this her mother Ann-Kristin, now 64, encouraged her not to let it hold her back.
After learning to draw she would spent countless hours as a child honing her skills and now paints professionally.
Jennie said: “When creating art, I’m sitting in a wheelchair and painting with a brush in my mouth.
“I have helpers and they place the canvas on the easel, clean brushes and a few other things.
“When I paint, they leave the room and then it’s just me and my creativity dancing together in harmony.”
People are often transfixed by Jennie while she paints and she says they are ‘amazed’ by her talent.
She added: “The most common phrase I hear is, ‘How can you paint like that with your mouth? I can’t even draw a straight line with my hand’
“Once at a Swedish art fair, a guy from Africa came into my booth and we started to talk about life and art.
“I showed him how I paint with the brush in my mouth and he asked if he could take pictures, when he was done he sat down next to me smiling and with tears in his eyes.
“He told me that he worked as a teacher in a small school on the countryside and he wanted to show the children that there are so many possibilities in life – even when it doesn’t seems like it.
“It was complimentary to hear and I understand that we all need inspiration to get on with our daily lives, myself included, but realistically I feel like I am just living my life and doing things my own way.”
Other times, Jennie says that people prejudge her because of her condition and presume she has a bad life.
She said: “When I meet people for the first time they often look at me and seem to think, ‘Poor her, she is trapped forever in a wheelchair with no life at all.
“Or in some cases they act like they’re scared of me and don’t know how to approach, so instead they stare.
“But when these people look at my paintings and actually talk to me, they realize that I’m just an ordinary 37-year-old woman with curly hair and a cat, married to my work and my husband – simple as that.”
In 2013 Jennie exhibited her painting backstage at the Sweden Rock Festival for musicians including Status Quo, Kiss and Motley Crue.
She says her artwork has permitted her experiences she otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to do.
Jennie said: “I love my art because it brings me great inner peace, but also it takes me places I don’t usually get the chance to visit.
“For example, backstage at a big rock festival where my art was showed for artists like Status Quo, Kizz and Mötley Crue.
“Thanks to my art I get to meet so many wonderful people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Jennie’s is a neuromuscular disorder that affects one in 3,000 live births and is caused by an interruption of normal muscle development during pregnancy.
Lana Prater, 50, President of Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita Support, Inc., said: “AMC is a condition that causes many joints to be stiff and crooked at birth.
“If the muscles don’t develop normally the joints cannot move and develop thus leading to fetal akinesia and Arthrogryposis present at birth.
“This unexplained event is not caused by anything the pregnant mother does or does not do
“Joints that can be affected by AMC include the hands, feet, hips, knees, elbows, shoulders, wrists, fingers, toes, the jaw and the spine.
“Any and all joints can be affected but it is possible for some joints to be unaffected, no two people are affected exactly the same way.”
The organisation have a yearly conference to connect families with the condition as well as professionals, doctors, physiotherapists and more.
Lana said: “It’s hard to explain to a mom exactly how another mom has taught her child to sit up without the use of his arms, or how one child
learned to stand.
“What so many people take for granted: the ease of walking, typing, eating and breathing those with AMC have had to struggle to adapt to this
“Our conferences solidify that bridge and strengthen the bond of our AMC family.”
For more information on the condition visit amcsuppor.
To see more of Jennie’s work visit here.