text by Eva May

To communicate, to define oneself in relation to others and be recognized, some of our
most fundamental desires, are always caught up in complex power relations. The
interplay between these power relations in the public sphere and a groupʼs or
individualʼs position in society is one of the main themes in Anna Wessmanʼs works,
which span over drawing, video, sculpture, installation, and many other media. By
combining the individualʼs memories with History, she catches an important discussion
that is about the borders – or rather, the overlaps – between the personal and the
political, the private and the public. These overlaps are clearly seen in the works in
which Wessman is concerned with the history of womanʼs shifting position between the
private sphere, to which she “traditionally” belongs, and the public, in which she has
been invisible during most of modern history. This is why the concepts of longing and
the absent are both personal and political in the works. These works investigate how the
position of women in society has changed during the twentieth century. Her possibilities
for communicating in the public sphere, how an image of her identity is constructed, and
how this construction influences her life experience. This spans from the voice of
authority in the police report in “Tableau 1901” (2008), which hides the woman it is
about, but reveals between the lines her poverty and powerlessness, to the image of
the strong Pippi Longstocking that was popular in the post-war years, which many
women felt (and feel) forced to mirror, e.g. at the work place (”Lena född 1943 i
Sverige” (2009)).
The work ”Zugehörigheitsgefühl” (2009) focuses directly on communication in the
public sphere in contemporary Sweden. Wessman put up posters in the streets of
Malmö, with an image of a Swedish “hembygdgård” (a red wooden house) and a text
that encouraged the reader to write to her about her feeling of belonging. But the text
was only in Arab. The work points not only to the exclusion of certain groups in the
public space, but also to the construction of history and memory. The artist is using the
red wooden house as an image of “Swedish” – an image, which is highly constructed
around the idea of “authenticity”, an idyllic and romanticised past. Here, another and
more subtle question is asked to the Arab-speaker: how do you construct your memory
– or how is it constructed for you through officially sanctioned images of history?
Wessman is encouraging us to recapture the public sphere – to speak and say our
opinion. This is seen e.g. in her frequent use of the microphone. This call is directed
especially to those who are not always allowed to speak or those who speak softly.

Eva May 2010