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Posts tagged ‘swedish history’

finding my inner viking

We are soon to depart from my ancestral homeland so the final posts will be a little introspective…

As noted, these are my people.  And I also have Icelandic, Scottish and Irish genes… so the Vikings loom large in my genetic composition.  What that means is hard to determine.  The Vikings aren’t quite as mysterious as the lost city of Atlantis but they were some of the first people to try and conquer others (and explore the world), long before foursquare.  If only they had taken photos during a marauding venture on their iphones and posted them to their facebook friends we might know what had been going on…

I have now had two ventures into Scandinavia and the take on being a Viking is interesting.  The rest of us don’t know much – and generally I would say the rep doesn’t seem that appealing.  But apparently Vikings had some cool, modern traits as well – and, like any culture, came with attributes.  They were not just vicious plunderers.

I will need to learn more – and it will take time.  The Historiska Museet gave me a starting point.  And some interesting facts.  And some intriguing stuff to see.

The most spectacular part is the Guldrummet (Gold Room), which displays more than 3,000 artefacts in gold and silver, from the Bronze to the Middle Ages.  It was a wild time in history so hording metal seemed to be a common hobby.  Definitely makes for some great exhibits for us modern visitors.

There are also some exceptional rune stones and excellent exhibits on Viking history.  It’s the same as the other Swedish museums with lots of questions posed to make visitors think, not just read and accept.

As I’ve already noted in a previous post, there was a special exhibit trying to provide a Wikipedia entry version of 1,000 years of Swedish history.  It started with clans, who are not the best way to build an inclusive society.  They were replaced by kings, also not a great model for universal anything.

The power of the kings was gradually replaced by the nobility and the church, often working in conjunction with each other to oppress and suppress most of the population.  The exhibit also explored the role of chivalry and the aristocracy in shaping society (not so positive…).

What was most fascinating is that the 21st century Sweden with its strong sense of identity is a new entity, barely 100 years old.  What is most impressive is how they took an old-fashioned, not so great nation state model, and used logic and planning to create a nation state that is an enviable place.  The US thinks that is their mojo – but they missed the part about engaging your brain to develop a nation state model that will benefit the majority of its citizens, not just the rich guys.  Nation states benefiting the rich guys are a dime a dozen.  Africa does THAT – in spades!  But a nation state that really seems to be working on behalf of the entire population.  That really gives one food for thought…

The museum definitely gave me an interesting sense of what it might mean to be a Swede.  Or even a Viking 🙂

The Swedes do seem to be part of Europe, while also maintaining some distance where they feel it might be wise.  They are shrewd.

And smart I think.

After all, they have declined to participate in the crazy Euro experiment.  The EU leaders must have got bored in Brussels and popped over to Amsterdam.  After enough pot brownies, the Euro likely seemed like a great idea 😉 Like a David Lynch film, it only makes sense if you’re high 🙂

The French dude who wrote Delicacy seemed to be dissing the Swedes.  They weren’t interesting enough.  Not enough of the adolescent drama queen ridiculousness that the Latin parts of Europe hold so dear.

They dismiss the Nordic elements as boring and lacking in imagination… but when they have run up the gambling debts that come with such irresponsible behavior they don’t take it on the chin and face the loan sharks… they hide under the skirts of their responsible neighbors.

It is a lot of fun hanging out in southern Europe.  But the Norse are my people… and someone has to bail you out of jail… Greece, Italy, Spain, France – you might want to keep that in mind 😉

the modern Swedish metrosexual…

During my mini tour of my Swedish roots and a few centuries of Viking history, I learned that the Sweden of my grandfather and the Sweden of the 21st century are very different places.  He was one of the many who emigrated at that time.  Sweden was poor and ruled by a class structure that favoured the nobility over the peasants so lots of Swedes emigrated to the new world for what they hoped would be a better life.

Somehow my grandfather ended up in small town Manitoba.  How he got there is not very clear.  That he was an adventurer and a maverick is part of the family folklore.  I’m not sure what the Swedish men of the poor late nineteenth century would have to say to the Swedish men of the prosperous early twenty first.

One of the cool new tourist attractions in Stockholm is the Fotografiska.  I am a big fan of photography but have only recently started going to photography museums when I head to cities.  The Fotografiska is popular with both locals and tourists and got me to Södermalm and a more “real” part of Stockholm.  Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to explore the neighborhood but the museum is definitely worth a visit.


There doesn’t seem to be a permanent collection, just a series of rotating exhibitions.  All were worth viewing – and made me feel bad about my tourist shots 🙂  But the one that intrigued me the most was Maria Friberg.

Apparently in 1995 she had met with a businessman in conjunction with selling some of her art work and they got into a philosophical conversation about the role of men in modern Swedish society.  She grew up on a collective in rural Sweden that was a matriarchal haven where the women worked and the men tended to domestic duties.  So the businessman was a novelty to her 🙂

There were two series of paintings – Almost There and The Painting Series.  There was also a video showing how she shot the photos for The Painting Series.  The commentary noted how her photography had been influenced by the working styles of Jackson Pollock and Yves Klein (my Alexander McQueen pumps in Yves Klein blue are one of my most prized possessions 🙂

Both the process used to create the photographs and their conceptual content really impressed me.

per the info at the museum….

Maria Friberg’s oeuvre is an investigation of male identity in today’s period of gender transition, as visualized in her signature series Almost There from 2000 and The Painting Series from 2011. In Almost There, we see a group of men, white men in suits, floating in a pool. Their homogeneous appearance is suggestive of the Western patriarchy. A patriarchy is formed when men are at the top of a societal structure. Clustered together, the pack of men appears to be in their mid-thirties, at the peak of their careers. They do not interact, but gaze instead into the distance. The image implies that they are rivals thereby reflecting the competitive nature of business. This is also suggested by the title, Almost There. Yet Friberg manages to disclose their vulnerability, by depicting the men straining to hold their heads above water. Accordingly, theseries coincided with the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2000 – 2001. The male dominated IT industry sustained devastating losses after its stocks were grossly overvalued. In its aftermath countless men were stripped of their financial status. They found themselves in a vulnerable position, much like the men depicted in Almost There.

In both series the figures float within a pool; however, in The Painting Seriesthe liquid is comprised of water mixed with various colored inks. In fact, the method for creating The Painting Series is based on a performance that can be likened to “action painting.” 

A short while later I stopped in a tourist shop and bought some gorgeous glass by Mats Jonasson.  The work was beautiful and as creative as Maria’s photography so it seemed the perfect souvenir for my trip.  And the shop owner told me the story of the glass factory and how Mats had saved it in the 1980’s and kept alive the glass traditions in the town, which had begun when my grandfather was still living in Sweden.  The past and the present perfectly conjoined.


We also had a conversation about Maria’s work and role of Swedish men in 21st century Sweden.  I didn’t talk to enough Swedish men in four days to draw any definitive conclusions but my non-scientific sample suggested that Swedish men are very articulate and very cool.  I don’t know much about my grandfather but my father apparently inherited a lot of his genes and my father possessed those same qualities.  So, the clothes and hairstyles may have changed, but the charming Swedish metrosexual seems to have been with us long before the word was coined to describe him 😉

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