Participation in the Public Programme and some texts for the catalogue of the exhibition at Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm
How have artists over the past 150 years related to the concepts of exile and migration? By following their traces in a museum’s collection, in this case that of Malmö Konstmuseum, we discover compelling answers to this question. This exhibition focuses on various experiences of migration and displacement from the perspective of art, and on the museum as a source of knowledge.
Malmö Konstmuseum originated as a study collection at a private school in Malmö in the 1840s. There were archaeological finds, stuffed birds, rare coins, minerals and artworks that the teachers would use in their teaching. In the 1880s, the collection had become so extensive that the city of Malmö decided to take over its administration. At the turn of the century, the foundation was laid for the art collection, today considered one of the foremost in the country, and in 1937 it was moved to a brand-new building close to Malmöhus Castle, which was built during the Danish Renaissance. For many years, the museum emphasized Nordic contemporary art in its exhibitions, although the international and more art-historical dimensions of the collection remain to be rediscovered.
A key starting point for the work presented in ‘Migration: Traces in
an Art Collection’ is the events of spring 1945, which took place at the museum at the Slottsholmen island in Malmö. After the end of the Second World War, the city of Malmö was inundated with refugees arriving from the concentration camps on the White Buses of the Swedish Red Cross. The city’s public buildings quickly became overcrowded. Overnight, Ernst Fischer, the director of the museum, decided to transform it into a refugee center, providing hundreds of beds. This event is depicted in a monumental painting from the same year by the artist SvenXet Erixson, reflecting the scene as it occurred in his mind’s eye. But those who found accommodation in the museum left behind drawings, as well, which remain in the collection. Many were small works on paper, depicting life in concentration camps, including, among other things, portraits of other prisoners, a strong testimony of an abominable period in history.
Another group of works recalls relations between Sweden and the Baltic countries before and after World War II. In 1939 Malmö Museum received a private donation slated for the establishment of a Latvian collection in the museum. A selection of forty-five artworks was purchased as a greeting, or a gesture of solidarity, to the young Latvian nation. Seven months later, Latvia had been occupied. Many Latvian artists escaped to Sweden, leading the museum to acquire, in 1946, a group of their works, now exhibited for the first time in sixty years. These unique paintings tell stories about the artists’ experiences of war, escape and everyday life in Latvia, but also about the exile in Sweden. The Latvian collection is presented in a separate publication, edited by Lotte Løvholm.
A third group of works sheds light on the increasing political consciousness and engagement in world events that was formative for much of the art world in the 1960s and ’70s. It also includes a number of contemporary works that comment, in different ways, upon the image of migration and translocation in a globalized world—one of the most discussed topics of our time.
For one year, Tensta konsthall, together with CuratorLab at Konstfack University and under the supervision of Joanna Warsza, studied public art collections, with a particular focus
on Malmö Konstmuseum. In its final stage, the course concentrated on the terms ‘migration’ and ‘exile’ from an art perspective, which form its contribution to the exhibition during a programme the 14–17 of May.
The exhibition design, created by Luca Frei, consists of a number of freestanding screens and colour fields. The colors are inspired by Rythme Couleur, a painting by Sonia Delaunay-Terk from 1952. For Frei, it goes without saying that the work of Delaunay, a Jewish-French artist, is suitable as a starting point, considering her eventful life and her idea of color as something that can transform in its meaning, depending on the material it appears in. Luca Frei’s artistic practice often begins with an investigation of archival material, which he then transfers into three-dimensional form. The exhibition design is titled Contrappunti and will also be used when this exhibition is shown in Malmö later this year.
Maria Lind and Cecilia Widenheim
Meriç Algün, Muhammad Ali, Sahar al-Khateeb, Albin Amelin, Pia Arke, Kärlis Baltgailis, Maja Berezowska, Carlos Capelán, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Eduards D Dzenis, Ewa Einhorn / Jeuno JE Kim, Sven Xet Erixson, Öyvind Fahlström, Jörgen Fogelquist, Luca Frei, Leon Golub, Jäzeps Grosvalds, Isaac Grünewald, Maxime Hourani, Marija Induse-Muceniece, Charlotte Johannesson, Björn Jonson, Käthe Kollwitz, Jakob Kulle, Runo Lagomarsino, Lotte Laserstein, Lars Laumann, Franco Leidi, Per-Oskar Leu, Janis Karlovic Liepins, Lage Lindell, Sven Ljungberg, Sirous Namazi, Endre Nemes, Gerhard Nordström, Minna Rainio / Mark Roberts, Ninnan Santesson, Vassil Simittchiev, Jadwiga Simon Pietkiewicz, Niklavs Strunke, SUPERFLEX, Olle Svanlund, Paola Torres Nuñez del Prado, Birgitta Trotzig, Ulf Trotzig, Tage Törning, Peter Weiss, Jacques Zadig and Anders Österlin.
I have written some entries for the exhibition catalogue:
Born in Brønnøysund, based in Berlin and Oslo
Season of Migration to the North, 2015, video 20 min, text by Eddie Esmail
Season of Migration to the North tells the story of the Sudanese architect and stylist Eddie Esmael, who was arrested by the police in his home country for being homosexual. He later arrived as a refugee in the north of Norway, where he tried to integrate into a society very different from that in which he had previously lived. There he began to read Ruth Meier’s diaries, an Austrian lesbian refugee living in Norway during the Second World War. Her writings are about her life before and during her time in Norway. Their experiences are very different, but they have similar dreams. The artist Lars Laumann shows us the harsh reality in the Nordic countries, often thought of as a paradise in terms of human rights, but where discrimination is an everyday reality. Integration into a new society is difficult as a migrant, always being reminded that you do not belong, and even more so as a homosexual. Eddie Esmael manages to be happier by finding work as an architect, although there are many things he misses. He worries that seventy years after the persecution of the Jews, history will repeat itself, only nowadays with homosexual Muslims. The title makes reference to the classic post-colonial novel Season of Migration to the North by the Sudanese novelist Tayeb Sali from 1966. E S M (Eva Seijas)
Born and based in Oslo
An die Nachgeborenen, 2014
Sound montage with scrolling videotext (teleprompter), loop 6 min
The installation by the artist Per-Oskar Leu is an audio montage of An die Nachgeborenen (To Those Who Follow in Our Wake), a poem by Bertolt Brecht written between 1934 and 1938 while he was living in exile in the Nordic countries and finally published in 1939. Brecht was travelling first
to Denmark, then to Sweden where he lived for a year on a farm near Stockholm, and finally, in April 1940, to Helsinki. This political poem talks about Brecht’s experience as a refugee and is divided into three different parts each referring to a different period in time. The first focuses on the present, which he refers to as a dark time. The second part shows the past: ‘I came into the cities in a time of disorder as hunger reigned’. And the last part speaks in the name of the future, which is a message to those whfollow in our wake. The artist Leu transforms the work into a sculptural piece, mixing fifteen different voices in a two-channel sound installation. It also includes Brechtās original voice, recorded in 1939 and 1953. While the montage and the sound of Brecht’s poem is in German, the viewer can also read the translation in English via scrolling video text, which is displayed continuously looping on a teleprompter. Per-Oskar Leuās artworks consist of mixed media, sculpture, painting, and video art, all referring to political and social issues, and in most cases to literature or films based on related historical events. E S M (Eva Seijas)
Minna Rainio born in Kangasala Mark Roberts born in Canterbury Based in Helsinki
They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains, 2017, single screen video 19,45 min.
They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains combines two stories: one,
a journey showing the refugees travelling from Iraq to Finland in the present day, and the other a story of Finnish refugees fleeing to Sweden in 1944. The narration in the film is based on archival letters written by Finnish refugees escaping the Soviet troops at the end of World War II. The hope of arriving in a peaceful place, after a long and tiring trip, is represented by the experiences of refugees. Their visual language touchingly shows the connection between the personal stories of refugees and the political and social spheres. The film was awarded a prize at the 8th Turku Biennial in 2018 and received a special mention for the Young Jury Prize in the Frontdoc Short Film Festival in 2018. Minna Rainio and Mark Roberts are based in Helsinki, working on large-scale, moving-image installations. They
also conduct artistic research on the impact of social and political power on individual experiences and history. The film explores refugee life and shows various migrant situations, emphasizing the cultural differences and the strong feeling of fear when leaving their homes to start a new life. E S M (Eva Seijas)