A tribute to Swedish cultural icons

The new design of the future Swedish bank notes was revealed last month. They will feature national cultural icons from the 20th century which are being linked to different geographical parts of Sweden.

The chosen personas has all passed away, but they are still surprisingly contemporary. Many of them are also famous for their eccentric personalities, for instance Astrid Lindgren, Ingmar Bergman and Greta Garbo.

Astrid Lindgren was a patron of all children – she encouraged kids to be brave and independent, and to not allow themselves to be treated as imbeciles just because of their age. If you find a stubborn Swede who enjoys adventure and making everything mundane into a game, then you have found one of Astrid’s offspring. They may have inherited these traits from her childrens’ books characters, the most well-known being Pippi Longstocking.

Ingmar Bergman’s work, on the other hand, is often been described as ‘serious‘ and ‘difficult‘. His films are mainly based around complex and troubled characters and deals with existential subjects of mortality, sexuality and religion. He has had major international influence on some of the worlds most important film directors, including Woody Allan, Andrei Tarkovsky and Martin Scorsese. He is praised for his experimental, intimate and stark style and has said; ‘I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them‘.

To be crude, Greta Garbo would have suited perfectly as a character in one of Bergman’s movies. She was an alluring and elusive star, both on- and off-screen. Famous for her talent of expressing deep emotions, she gained international recognition for roles in films such as Grand Hotel, Anna Karenina and Ninotchka. She fled stardom after her last movie failed and lived her last 50 years trying to avoid publicity. This resulted in a growing mysticism and she is now known as the star who wanted to be ‘left alone’ but never was.

To have cultural figures on the Swedish bank notes is nothing new. The old 20kr note used to feature Selma Lagerlof and the 50kr Jenny Lind. The difference is that they are now taking over the whole set, replacing the old kings Karl XI och Gustav Vasa. This is interesting as the current government in Sweden has been cutting down on the previous generous support to culture. A support that was very much part of building the same cultural heritage that is now being celebrated. It is also interesting because it helps establish the weakening role of the monarch, although the current king will stay on the coins.

The move of having more contemporary cultural icons on such a conservative medium as bank notes also questions the role history and tradition have in today‘s society. Is it a result of our difficulties to keep track on the present that makes us limit the past to a comfortable arm length? Or is it that we have realised that sometimes we can learn more from those things which are closer to hand? Whatever the reason may be, I am glad to know that the bank notes will enable Astrid, Ingmar and Garbo to stay in the Swedes daily life for a little bit longer.