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New Art Expo at Swedish Embassy Highlights Ties With US

By Austin Mistretta

The House of Sweden on March 22 hosted a gathering to celebrate the opening of three new art exhibits on its campus. The collection of exhibitions, entitled “Swedish Footprints: Shaping Our Future”, highlights the various contributions Swedish artists have made to American popular culture. As guests poured in for the event, the embassy — the glass walls of which are meant to symbolize transparency between Sweden and the United States — became packed with bodies. For most of the attendants, the first stop was the bar. Upon retrieving their drinks, though, most people began cycling through the different exhibits as a light snow started to fall outside.

Eventually, after everyone had a chance to take in the art — along with a round or two of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres — Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter welcomed the crowd from atop a flight of stairs. While she stayed deftly on message in her opening remarks, she also took the opportunity to work the room.

“I would really like to quote President Trump, who said about Sweden in a press conference: ‘You are small, but you are sharp.’ I think he is really correct in that,” Olofsdotter joked. “And of course, when it comes to the creative industries — startups, music, and tech — we are world leading and we really excel.”

If anything, Olofsdotter was understating the influence Swedish businesses currently have in the tech world. Spotify, for instance, has gone from being a small Stockholm startup to one of the leading music streaming service providers, with tens of millions of active users in the US and, as of Apr 10, a $26 billion IPO valuation.

Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter greets members of the press before a tour of the exhibits (Photo: Austin Mistretta)

Many Swedish companies like Spotify conduct business in America as well. That means more jobs. Earlier in March, that is precisely what Sweden’s PM Stefan Löfven discussed in his meeting with President Trump; it was also the main thrust of Ambassador Olofsdotter’s speech.

“We support about one million jobs,” the ambassador said as she directed the crowd’s attention to an installation in one of the exhibits called “The Creative Nation: Swedish Tech and Innovation”: a large rug shaped like a map of the United States that one can step on to find out how many jobs Swedish enterprise is responsible for in whichever state has the dubious honor of being trodden upon.

A man interacts with the installation, “The Creative Nation: Swedish Tech and Innovation.” By some estimates, Sweden is responsible for some 1,000,000 jobs in the United States. (Photo: Austin Mistretta)

The rest of “Creative Nation” revolves around the intercultural dialogue between America and Sweden. It showcases oft-overlooked Swedish contributors to American art such as producer/songwriter Max Martin, who has worked with Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys and is responsible for hits like Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Spears’s “...Baby One More Time.”

The second exhibit revisits the work of Ingmar Bergman, the legendary Swedish filmmaker. More particularly, it displays a set of costumes and photographs that pay homage to Bergman’s extensive and unique career in cinema. Movies by Bergman like Fanny and Alexander and The Seventh Seal are renowned on both sides of the Atlantic.

A display case in the “Creative Nation” exhibit. (Photo: Austin Mistretta)

The third exhibition is dedicated to a living artist named Karin Broos. Her paintings, which have earned her acclaim in Sweden, are mostly self-portraits or portraits of her family. The series named “Still Life” was on display last fall at the Swedish American Institute and is one of her first to be shown in America. Broos cites Henry David Thoreau as one of her great inspirations — a fact that only reiterates the theme of connection between the arts in America and in Sweden.

The entire “Swedish Footprints” exposition effectively shows that linkage, as well as its continued impact on everyday life in America and Sweden. But, to quote Olofsdotter, “Our shared story of innovation is far from complete.” As bilateral relations continue to evolve, and as the global business climate does as well, so will the US-Swedish intercultural dialogue. Hopefully it will remain as fruitful as it has been in the past.

Austin Mistretta is an editorial intern at The Washington Diplomat.




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