11th Gwangju Biennale
2. 9. – 6. 11. 2016



Marie-Louise Ekman

In the silkscreen Exit, it’s a bleeding dog-girl wearing a skirt who exits. She is lying on a stretcher carried by two dogs in hats with their eyes closed. Also in the room, which has cherry-patterned wallpaper, is another dog-girl wearing a red skirt and carrying a glass in her hand. The TV is on and a bird’s head appears on the screen. In Marie-Louise Ekman’s (b. 1944, Stockholm) imagery, animals often have human traits and become protagonists in a drama in which both the beginning and the end are unclear.

Ekman has a unique position in Sweden’s art context: contributing to the underground magazine Puss in the ‘60s, becoming an innovative film director, making a dozen films, and later becoming an influential professor and rector at the Royal College of Art. She is also a theater director and from 2009 to 2015 she was the head of the Royal Dramatic Theater, Sweden’s national theater.

Ekman was one of the first artists in Sweden to embrace popular culture, and she did so from a young woman’s perspective as well as from a child’s point of view. Relationships and encounters between people play a central role in her oeuvre, which includes paintings, objects, applications, film, theater, television series, and – last but not least – the graphic arts. In banal scenes from everyday life that often take place in the home, political, erotic, and artistic taboos are transgressed with the help of a playful “popnaivism” – a mixture of references to ’60s Pop Art and naive expressions from self-taught artists and children’s book illustrations. Combined with this popnaivism, there is usually something very absurd in her pictures. The theater as a form and a metaphor pops up in the narrative sceneries of her pictures, regardless of technique or genre.

Another important theme of Ekman’s oeuvre is how art is created, presented, and distributed. Around 1968 she made her first prints with her then-husband Carl Johan De Geer, a photographer and artist. The couple owned a printing workshop in Stockholm. The clean lines of Ekman’s paintings are easily adapted to graphics; several times she has translated her paintings into lithographs and screen prints.

If Ekman’s feature films and gallery exhibitions have mainly reached a small but enthusiastic audience, her series for Swedish state-owned television, including Målarskolan (the school of painting) in 1990 and Vennerman och Winge in 1992, were seen by a much wider public. The latter was written and directed with her current spouse, Gösta Ekman, who was also the lead actor.

Ekman claims that the only category she can place herself in is “artist.” Yet her work – in the form of prints and other media – sustains a commitment to what is outside the norm, to the odd and the deviant. In her work, the unexpected and unconventional are represented as understandable and self-evident. Without batting an eye, she crosses boundaries and extends identities. Her art, according to Ekman herself, is documentary. ML


Marie-Louise Ekman is an artist based in Stockholm.