Humanitet – The Power of Art in Difficult Times

8 April11 September 2022
Previous exhibition

Vera Nilsson, Money is the Enemy of Life, 1938. Photo: Gunnar Menander

Humanity - The Power of Art in Difficult Times, tells a unique story that is not so well known to the general public; namely the one about how our most popular Swedish artists Vera Nilsson (1888 – 1979), Sven Xet Erixson (1899 – 1970), Bror Hjorth (1894 – 1968) and Albin Amelin (1902 – 1975) early took a stand against fascism and nazism through using the power of the images.

The exhibition is based on a collection of illustrations that the artists published in 1933 in the form of a graphic folder called Humanitet and later in the form of a magazine called Mänsklighet. The illustrations become a warning from the artists who testified in pictures and texts about fascism's grip on Europe and the ongoing threat to democracy.
In addition to these strong illustrations, works of art are shown that give a striking look back at a Sweden in change during the 1930s. The young artists' life journeys and professional lives bear witness to the recession and stock market crash of the time, heated discussions about conventions and morality, the wear and tear of the transition from a working society to an industrial country. Many of the issues of that time are recognizable today, when social upheavals once again cause polarization, battles of ideas and the basic principles of democracy are challenged.
Albin Amelin, Worker's Cafe, 1936. Photo: Per Groth (image is cropped)
Sven Xet Erixson, Fishing jetty in Svolvaer, 1934.

Humanitet was published as a direct reaction to the news of Hitler's rise to power in Germany. Led by, among others, Amelin and Xet Erixson, a group of artists worked together 17 linocuts with messages and a call to offer resistance. In order to reach as many people as possible with the understanding of what was at stake, they created art with a political sharpness and commitment that was groundbreaking in Swedish art. The last decade's movements in the political landscape have rekindled an interest in the political movements of the 1930s, and we can also see parallels with the digital age's use of image-based media to achieve a wide impact for ideas and social currents.

Sven Storm, Our Daily Bread, from Humanitet, 1933.
Sven Xet Erixson, Cursed be you who do not curse the war, 1944.

The exhibition presents painting, sculpture, drawing and graphics by the four artists. It offers a fond re-examination of timeless works for a wide audience, and gives new generations the chance to discover the classic artistry. The exhibition Humanity - The Power of Art in Difficult Times highlights the artists' contemporaries, provides a context for dialogue with history and an opportunity to learn from the keenest observers of the time.

The exhibition is produced by Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum in collaboration with guest curator Paulina Sokolow.