Lena Svedberg

Precursor to the riot grrrl provocatrices of the 1990s and Raymond Pettibon, Sweden’s Lena Svedberg created menacing cartoons that documented xenophobia and she displayed them at the height of her generation’s activist fever, in 1969. Her masterwork, Mr Aldman – Superhero of the Universe, 1969, which debuted at the 1969 Paris Youth Biennale, is on view at Moderna Museet, Stockholm. The main character, resembling a twisted Hieronymus Bosch figure, gets to Beirut by following an oil pipeline; appearing along the way are Svedberg’s illustrations of heads of state and church leaders (including Pope Paul VI), and the flags of Israel, France, Palestine, and the US, among others. Implicating these figures and hubs of power by including them on his journey, Mr. Aldman witnesses the implosion of the Middle East’s delicate political ecosystem amid the Western pursuit of oil.

There’s no doubt that the subject matter of much of Svedberg’s artwork, especially the acidic Mr Aldman, was influenced by the brief part of her childhood spent in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where her father was the ruling party’s economic advisor. Later, when Svedberg attended the Royal Academy in Stockholm, she did not engage much in creating subversive imagery until cofounding the radical satire magazine PUSS in 1968, a short-lived underground endeavor that featured surrealist, assemblaged covers.

Though Moderna Museet has owned Mr Aldman for four decades, the suite was only recently restored after sitting in disrepair. The incendiary work, as relevant as ever, merely suggests what blunt expressions of the next few tumultuous decades Svedberg’s work might have been if she had not committed suicide in 1972, at the age of twenty-six.

www.artforum.com

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