Anyone who’s ever been to Stockholm has probably gotten at least a taste of the remarkably vibrant artistic concepts that define many of the city’s subway stations. A bunch of the stations are incredibly distinctive––my favorite was the Solna Centrum station on the blue line, executed by Anders Åberg and Karl-Olov Björk in 1975. In that instance, the cavernous, rocky ceilings are painted a deep shade of red, while the walls at each exit are either green or black. (As you wander about the platform, there are plenty of odd, rustic dioramas to hold your attention.) If you Google the subway stations of Stockholm, this is the image you’re most likely to see––it is rather like a vision of hell. Other stations have geometrical patterns or motifs from science, and not all of them are by any means pleasant.
Stockholm continued its tradition of adventurous subway art when it granted a commission to a cartoonist named Liv Strömquist. Americans are most likely to have encountered Strömquist’s work as the cover art for The Knife’s 2013 album Shaking the Habitual, which necessitated the creation of a comic book called “End Extreme Wealth” that portrayed the 1% as culturally impoverished and vermin-esque.
In 2014 Strömquist published Kunskapens frukt (Knowledge’s fruit), in which she introduced menstruation as a major theme of her work. This year, after accepting the commission to do art on the subway, Strömquist decided to present the menstruation-themed artwork in an even more public setting. Did been on display at the Slussen station, which services the green and red lines, since late September.
The enlarged felt-pen sketches, which are self-consciously simple in execution, are entirely black and white except for a noticeable streak of red strategically positioned to evoke menstruation. All of the pictures feature women doing things outdoors; only a few of them focus on menstruation. One of the images references Bob Dylan’s song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”
Not everyone is delighted to be confronted by images of blood-stained womanhood in the subway. The pictures have been criticized for being “disgusting” and “inappropriate”; one blogger, while acknowledging the positive aspects of a franker attitude towards menstruation, stated that she has doubts that “not sure that enormous pictures like this are what I want to be faced with on my daily commute.”
One tweet complained: “It’s not fun explaining to a four-year-old about the red between the legs.” Another read: “It is not enough to get [your period] once a month. Now you will be reminded every time you jump on the subway.”
As Strömquist commented to Sverige Radio:
This discussion always comes when I exhibit my art, because it’s a taboo in society and evokes strong emotions. I’ve not commented on the discussion, and it’s not my place to give judgments to my own art. I’m very excited that some people have enjoyed it.
“It’s weird that it’s deemed so provocative, considering it’s something that we see all the time,” she explained to the SVT television station. “I have a hard time understanding that.”
One woman who has no problem with the images is the well-known singer Neko Case, who in early October tweeted some of the images, with the message “Yep, these amazing Stockholm subway murals are by Liv Stromquist!” followed by a heart emoticon.
See the images after the jump….......