The sensitive, timely theme of “Safe & Sound” connects a series of exhibitions, seminars and performances at the House of Sweden, with the beautiful, open embassy along the Georgetown Waterfront serving as a hub to contemplate ways to promote equality, safety and security for all.
“We saw a lot of issues we wanted to fit in that theme. We wanted to talk about different global security issues like climate, health, women and peace, freedom of speech, migration and refugees — Sweden has received many refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other places,” Swedish Embassy public diplomacy, press and communications counselor Monica Enqvist told The Washington Diplomat. “‘Safe & Sound’ encompasses all this.”
The exhibit “Stories of Migration — Sweden Beyond the Headlines” can be found by the entrance, inviting visitors to explore new perspectives on the country’s history with migration along with the present-day struggles and opportunities that stem from a new wave of migrants and refugees.
Display cases highlight innovative policies practiced in Sweden, from ways new residents are encouraged to learn the language to programs that introduce young people to popular sports in the country.
“The exhibit aims to have a dialogue, to share stories about migration, initiatives, solutions to global challenges and to give correct facts,” according to Enqvist.
Visitors can see examples of designs made by migrants exploring the immigrant experience, or dig into what the asylum-seeking process really involves. As the exhibit notes, “migration is old news,” but with 65 million people around the world forced to flee their homes — the largest number since World War II — the current crisis is anything but. It’s an issue that directly affects Sweden, which has disproportionately accepted a large share of the refugees arriving in Europe (more than 160,000 in 2015, including 35,000 unaccompanied children) and where one in every six people was born in another country.
Photographs of migrants and asylum seekers, along with their thoughts on the experience in their own words, are available to browse on tablets or on large print canvases. The images of new Swedes, who shared their stories of migration with photographer Alexander Mahmoud, are a particular highlight.
This part marks the most effective point of the show, with the mix of personal experience and the broader discussion of Swedish government policy making for a striking and thought-provoking display. Take, for example, the photo of Ibrahim leaping in the air clad in his cleats — a vibrant shot made all the more powerful with his story about receiving a residence permit in Sweden.
“I’m late. I have just met with officers at the Migration Agency. The match has already started. I run up to my coach, say that I can jump into the game right away without changing clothes. After one minute, during the first attack, I shoot the ball hard into the net. I run up to my teammates, celebrating, screaming that I have received a residence permit in Sweden. That’s why I’m late. This is the highlight of my life,” the caption reads. “All of the players in Flyttfågeln FC (‘Migratory Bird FC’) are underage migrants from different countries who have come here without parents. We are all friends. I hope that all my friends will be allowed to stay in Sweden.”
Along with “Stories of Migration,” the House of Sweden will be showcasing “Witnesses” by Anna U Davis, a mixed-media artist who explores gender relations, and “Summertime Iceland: Light as a Metaphor” by photographer Nancy Libson, through December.
The “Safe & Sound” theme also extends to the event series that is put on at the embassy, with family art workshops on Saturdays and films on Sunday afternoons, for instance. “On the weekends, we run House of Sweden like a museum, so it’s open and free of charge. People can come in and enjoy our exhibitions. We also have movie screenings and workshops for children,” Enqvist noted.
Beyond the impressive array of exhibitions and events on offer, the House of Sweden itself is well worth a visit to the Georgetown Waterfront. Designed by Swedish architects Gert Wingårdh and Tomas Hansen, it is an 80,000-square-foot glass marvel with an iconic D.C. view.
“Behind this building’s architecture and design are Swedish values — openness, transparency and nature. Through the big glass walls we bring in nature — the Potomac and Rock Creek from the outdoors,” Enqvist said.
As the House of Sweden heads to its finale of a fascinating year focusing on its chosen theme of “Safe & Sound,” Enqvist said she hopes the programs and exhibitions help spur debate both in and outside of the walls of the embassy.
“We want people to share what they think, and to continue talking about these areas,” she said. “We can all learn from each other when we share our stories, explore different perspectives to promote collaboration and stand up for important values like human rights. It’s about the challenges of today and positive solutions.”
Stories of Migration — Sweden Beyond the Headlines
through Dec. 10
House of Sweden
2900 K St., NW
(202) 467-2600 | www.swedenabroad.com/washington
About the Author
Mackenzie Weinger (@mweinger) is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.