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Sara Lundberg – “The bird in me flies where it wants”

And daddy calls me again
I don’t hear anything even if he shouts loudly
He pronounces my first name, Berta
Which in Swedish rhymes with hjarta : heart

If I completely curl up, it’s up to
A sleeping bird that I look like then
Like the clay one I made today
And who will be my little gift for mom

Poetic, childish and rebellious, the first lines of The bird in me flies where it wants instantly raise the stakes, themes and metaphors of a moving lesson in liberation. A suffocating and authoritarian father who imposes the rules, guarantor of social conventions, a loving and loved mother and a little girl who does not accept her condition and only dreams of flying away. Author and designer Sara Lundberg is inspired by the writings and paintings of Berta Hansson (1910-1994), an opportunity both to highlight the work of a somewhat unknown artist and to tell the story of a woman, or how a little girl managed to extract herself from a future that seemed all mapped out, in rural Sweden in the 1920s, defying prohibitions and customs, to become a painter.

© The Party

Berta immediately feels a prisoner of the condition imposed on her, that of herding cows before running a farm and becoming a housewife. The patriarch makes it clear to her that she must not dream of an existence different from all the others, different from the one he intends for her – that the society of the time intends for her. He’s not the only one, even the “brave” teacher tells her not to be clever when she refuses to fit a carrot between the lines and wants to draw it differently, as she sees it. This carrot is a bit like Berta herself, determined at all costs to exist “as she really is”.

Berta therefore flees boredom and authority in the trees, in the grass or in the water. Keeping cows is for her, observing them, drawing them, entering into harmony with nature, and already bringing her art and her eccentricity to life, as evidenced by Berta’s innate non-conformism who likes to stick cow heads. animals on women’s bodies. This energy and this inner rage, they will one day have to materialize, explode, channel themselves…

© The Party

Escape within oneself, in daydreaming and in art constitute the cathartic means of survival in a particularly painful family environment. For sickness and death lurk through the figure of this loving and understanding mother, almost always bedridden, suffering from consumption. This mother who embodies love and loss will be the one who will most incite Berta not to obey. Curiously, one phrase seems to intertwine this feeling of death and art, as if to fight against one with the other, then to restore life to the departed through creation.

She had ugly black spots on her lungs. As if someone had scribbled them in charcoal.

By choosing the form of the diary, Sara Lundberg organizes both a work of mise en abyme and transmission. She reinvents Berta’s diary by drawing inspiration from her writings and her paintings, while affirming her artistic identity, as part of the continuity of Berta’s work. The approach appears as subtly feminist because it pays homage to an almost unknown artist – as were many others – while continuing her lineage in a masterful way, like symbolically taking up the torch of all these women artists whom we would have liked to silence.

© The Party

The paintings that accompany the text enter into total osmosis with it. The diluted gouache structures the compositions, sets up the tones. Often the details seem to close a superposition of colors, they are as if made in another medium. The freedom of the pictorial gesture makes nature vibrate. The cut-outs and collages accentuate the spontaneity of the illustrations, while giving them their intimate rhythm. And then, interspersed with a succession of drawings with collages, putting the evolution of Berta’s work into perspective, with a close-up of her hands cutting out fashion magazines, a Michelangelo postcard on a desk. The page in a way of other pages, other fragments of paper, superimposed.

© The Party

The bird in me flies where it wants alternates dark and bright moments, exterior and natural splendours, not far from the vivacity of Scandinavian landscape painters. When they adopt darker textures in the house, certain boards are reminiscent of Vilhelm Hammershøi, who so well painted austere interiors mirroring inner worlds, observing from the back of locked up “heroines”, whose loneliness one feels without even needing to surprise their glance. But unlike the Danish painter, we always feel the breakaway in the distance.

There is so much to say about this superb album, about this metaphorical figure of the bird inscribed in the title and which runs through the book. Because The bird in me flies where it wants is the story of flight and reconciliation with one’s self when life finally coincides with an ideal and one’s aspirations. So much to say also about the feminism that emerges from it through its multiple portraits of women, mothers, sisters or narrators. The symbolic act of letting the peas burn will be decisive for Berta, she will seal her revolt by sabotaging the household chores, which will decide her fate. Thus Berta breaks the curse, of submissive women, the one that says:

Housewife. Housewife. This is what we must become. Julia, Gunna and me. Dad wants it that way. Women always have been and always will be.

It is a vise that does not show its true face and continues to perpetuate itself from generation to generation, even under the distorted name ofindependencelike this sister proud to have gone to town, but who finally fled one prison for another by leaving to study home economics at school to “learn how to keep a home”.

Yet Sara Lundberg’s feminism never gives in to Manichaeism and locks men into stereotypes, between a benevolent doctor and a father who is only the product of his world, his education, his time, and will end up bend in the face of his daughter’s pugnacity.

I feel that my body will rear up, explode. I have only one desire: to run away, to hide. Sometimes I would rather be an animal.

At the heart of the portrait of a solitary and rebellious childhood slumbers a sensuality of drawing that takes hold of the face, the hands or the body. And this carnal always joins the palpitations of the world and the earth.


The obird in me flies where it wants
by Sara Lundberg
Translated from Swedish by Jean-Baptiste Coursaud
Edited by The Party

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