Yesterday I was approached by a French student who wanted to interview me about the Swedish far right and the rise of our racist party (SD) and how it affects me as an artist. Here is the interview (slightly edited to fit this blog).
I have seen the interview about you in Fier Panda, and I have seen (or I suppose) that you are against the far right, is that true?
To me it’s not even a question whether I am for or against the far right movement; if you have a sense of common decency, if you are empathetic and have a conscience, it is not an issue of “for or against”, you are automatically on the side against oppression and inhumane values. I never took a stand, it just comes natural for me to feel empathy for people in need. However I belong to no political party and I wish to be free to think outside the political palette.
We do have problems in Sweden which are sadly abandoned by our leading politicians and instead hijacked by our far right party (SD). The silence of the ruling (humane) political parties is unfortunately a highway for the far right movement and their extreme opinions. They are being loud about all the issues which are neglected by the sitting politicians and manipulate the people to think that they have all the answers. Of course they don’t.
The present situation of refugees and immigrants, the shortage of available apartments in our the bigger cities, the decline of our health care system, crime and violence in areas where there are a lot of immigrants are all very complex and difficult to solve. But I am sure the solution is not found in the narrow minds of the far right. It is not “we against them”, it is about adjustment, knowledge and finding a balance where we can help people in need, without feeling overwhelmed. To save people in a lifeboat you can’t help more than the boat allows.
I don’t have any answers, because I am not a politician, but I have an idea of how to start solving our issues. Simply by acknowledging them without being scared of sounding like we share the values of the far right. Life is not colored in black or white – but found in the complexities of the grey-scale. To walk on any extreme political path will get you nowhere, unless you want history to repeat itself.
Has Sweden had a climb of racism these last years like in other countries of Europe – for example France or in Germany?
People feel intimidated and threatened by whatever they feel is invading their sense of identity and security. I think it’s a natural instinct from a very primitive part of our brain. Fear will always make you defensive and reactive instead of being open minded and focused on making smart solutions. SD and the far right are using this fear to attract people’s attention to their (shady) agendas. They reinforce fear in people to get their selfish values normalized.
It is very difficult to talk about the real problems Sweden are facing right now, without sounding like a racist. It is, once again, the dangerous nature of thinking in terms of black and white, or in extremes. Then there are no middle ground where people can meet and unite.
We DO have big problems with unfamiliar and hard-to-handle elements of immigrated cultures (child brides, genital mutilation of young girls, gang violence etc), we DO have issues with a declining health care system, we DO have problems with a higher rate of rapes (especially gang rapes). The question is how to approach these issues.
We have to stop censoring ourselves and each other. We need to be open and honest about difficult matters, without being labeled as “racist” or blaming an entire religion or race, as soon as we are trying to approach uncomfortable topics. Sharing knowledge and being open-minded to new approaches should be considered as healthy and productive, but it is only possible without censorship. Political correctness is a nice concept but works like a straightjacket in a fruitful discussion.
Being racist won’t ever lead to any good results, this goes without saying in my opinion. Being racist might feel good because it justifies your fear, rage and frustration – but it is a mental cul-de-sac. It will get you nowhere if you want to come up with a lasting solution. Short term solutions, sure – just look at Hitler’s Germany. But for solutions of quality, you have to add more dimensions to your motivation than only fear and frustration.
Swedish racists are talking about the problem of segregation between immigrants and Swedes, but the real problem is in the segregation between the values of Swedes themselves., just like the Americans. A divided people.
Have you made artworks to attest of your political position?
Yes, last summer there was a wave of gang rapes in Sweden, especially at music festivals around the country. Being a victim of domestic abuse and sexual trauma, I made a few pieces about rape. I feel like the politicians are betraying women when they keep silent about these issues. I don’t care if the sexual predators are Swedes or immigrants, it is a big problem and the politicians are being too quiet about it. I feel like our politicians have let us down. And I feel powerless when I think about these matters.
I do have a problem with the “self-proclaimed victim and enraged, emotionless and indifferent male” whether he’s white, brown, yellow, black, purple, a Christian, Muslim, Jew or if he’s a freaking trekkie. That is a problem we REALLY should discuss. Why are these men so angry? Why do they feel like victims? How can we prevent this phenomena to go on? If we find a good solution to this issue, I think we wouldn’t have many problems in the world. But I think it is a very difficult question to answer. I would want to deal with it more in my art though. To dig deeper.
Has many Sweden artists reacted to the growth of SD? And the rest of the population?
I think the political cartoonists have had a distinct upswing these last few years, but I don’t know about the artists in general. I am sure it has colored the art world in some way. People are scared of the development in the world. What is going to happen? Is this only the beginning of something much worse? What will happen in the upcoming election (next year) and how would Sweden become if SD turns out to be the predominant party? We are making fun of Trump’s administration, but I am not sure it is as funny as we think it is. I am deeply concerned. I think many people are. The SD followers and the racists are having their moment in the sun, with all the far right politicians coming out in the arena in both Europe and in the US.
And the last question, do you think the ideas of the far right and the ideas of artists can be compatible?
No. Never. And they shouldn’t be. Art is for unifying people. Far right ideas are about distancing, isolation and separation. Art and far right ideas are like oil and water. I see it as a positive thing. We need artists now more than ever. Art can present solutions and ideas not found in words or thoughts. Art can work as ice breakers and get people together to start talking in a constructive way. And I think we are all dying to do that.
Art is the language of tolerance. Far right people use the language of intolerance.