For several years, attention has been drawn to the fact that there is a general lack of public sculptures and monuments to both women and minority groups in Gothenburg. The city has “more sculptures of Evert Taube [widely regarded as Sweden’s foremost twentieth-century troubadour] than of historical women,” The Gothenburg Post aptly wrote in 2019. An investigation by the paper found that with two exceptions – the author Karin Boye and the midwife Johanna Hedén – women in Gothenburg’s public space are represented either as fairy-tale characters or naked mythological creatures.
But things are starting to change. Last year Knutte Wester completed RomanoParken, which is described as a “mosaic of Romani experiences,” and 2021 will see the inauguration of two works in memory of the journalist Ingrid Segerstedt Wiberg. And last week, Gothenburg Art, the municipal organisation for public art, issued a press release announcing that work has begun on the city’s first LGBTQI+ monument. A preparatory study is currently underway, which the public was invited to partake in last weekend, 6–7 February. The next step will be to determine who is going to create the monument and where it will be placed.
According to Claudia Schaper, process manager for public art at Gothenburg Art: “The initiative to commission an artwork that could represent and recall the struggle of LGBTQI+ people in the city comes from the Gothenburg LGBTQ Council. In order to create relevance for a larger group, and to increase knowledge within the project, both when it comes to Gothenburg’s LGBTQI+ history and when it comes to how, where, and in what way a monument can be devised in Gothenburg, we are conducting a preparatory study. It involves a number of artists, organisations and other people who contribute in various ways.”
Sam Hultin is one of the artists engaged in the preparatory study. They have collected personal stories about Gothenburg from a queer historical perspective and developed digital and physical walking tours comprising around one hundred spots to visit in the city.
Hultin told Kunskritikk:
The audio guide is now available online and in an app, but, as soon as it’s safe, the walking tours will be led on-site by people from different queer communities in Gothenburg. In addition to this work, I have thought a lot about monuments and what they are. The past two years I have been working on Eva-Lisa’s monument, which is about the trans activist Eva-Lisa Bengtson, who passed away in 2018 and whose archive I was left in charge of. The monument concept became important as a way to make her struggle visible and, to some extent, compensate for the invisibility and oppression of trans activists that Eva-Lisa experienced. Monuments in general are problematic in the sense that they are manifestations of power and who is made invisible, for example in public space in Gothenburg.
Hultin described how Gothenburg’s past includes several hate crimes, as well as a rich history of activism and queer history research:
Because of these particular circumstances, there have been reasons to work on this extensively, for example the work that the LGBTQ Council does. At the same time, neo-fascism is on the rise in Sweden, and there will most likely be a backlash against this monument as well. I work with storytelling, what is happening to the city from a queer perspective, which in my experience is a powerful way to create a different image of the common and of history. The themes that appear in my workshops are often to do with the importance of community, as many have felt very alone for a long time. So I hope that community will be at the centre of this monument, rather than individuals, who are often the focus of monuments – that it will be very powerful, like a muted, solemn pride parade.
Johanna Adebäck is the process leader at Gothenburg Art, and emphasizes that there is an ongoing discussion about public art in Gothenburg – with, among others, the network Urban konst at Gothenburg’s Konsthall and the Gothenburg International Biennial for Contemporary Art’s project Possible Monuments? which revolves around the possibility of erecting a memorial to the city’s colonial history on the so-called ‘French lot’.
“We have a lively critical conversation here, but the commercialisation of public space and the increased pressure that art should have a specific social function concerns me. We want to allow for public art to be complex without it having to solve any problems,” Adebäck told Kunstkritikk.
The preparatory study will be used to create a brief for the LGBTQI+ monument later this year. Gothenburg Art will announce the commission through an open call; shortlisted artists will be asked to draft proposals before the final choice is made in the fall of 2021. The soonest the monument is expected to be completed is the fall of 2022. The budget comprises a total of SEK 2 million (EUR 200,000), which includes the ongoing preparatory study. Last weekend’s programme included, in addition to the city walk, a film programme on LGBTQI+ issues compiled by Anna Linder, and a workshop on the concept of monuments.