“All These Dicks On The Wall”: Midsommar and the Folk Art of Sweden
by Omar Hafeez
Ulla Hafeez, a Swedish immigrant, has kept her connection to Sweden through art. When I walked through her house, Swedish art permeated the atmosphere. Atop the fireplace lied a Renaissance-style portrait of her great grandmother. On the shelves stood Dala horses, carved and sold by farmers in the winter to keep their businesses afloat. In the dining room were two tall display cabinets, exhibiting a variety of glass bowls, vases, and sculptures. Two books lied on her coffee table. One with blue cover and “Bårder för dekormålning” written across the cover in cursive, the other, a rather large and thick book- this one written in English- titled “The World of Carl Larsson.”
Why do you have these books?
“Carl Larsson’s paintings incorporate the daily life of Sweden. You can see the Christmas celebrations in his paintings, you can see the nature in his paintings, you can see his children and his kitchen in his paintings and they very much encapsulate Swedish tradition. He was very strongly influenced by Swedish folk art, and folk art not only incorporates the paintings on the wall, but painting the cupboard, painting the porcelain, the cloth you are weaving, the colors you mix when knitting, the glass made in Småland, and in his book he incorporates all of this.” The second book was bought by Hafeez herself- she enjoys painting and wanted to practice traditional Swedish painting.
The traditions portrayed in the books are still alive today in Sweden, they are very much a part of Swedish life. If one were to travel to a Midsummer party in Sweden, they would still see traditional folk dancing around the maypole. They would see traditional Swedish costumes and eat traditional Swedish food. These books aren’t a gateway to the past, but rather a flight to modern-day Sweden. “Folk art helps us recount our origins – it tells the story of where we come from and who we are” (Dala Folk Art).
As Ulla told me “we all paint what we see, and because all different kinds of art forms have a place in Swedish society, it has spread widely across the world. It builds a sense of nationality, and sense of style that you like and want to introduce other people to. Simple lines, colors, and an overall subtle approach to design.” Maybe that’s why we have to look deeper to find Midsommar’s true connection to Sweden. Just like the art itself, Ari Aster chose a subtle exhibition throughout the movie to submerse viewers into the authentic Swedish joy, warmth, and inevitable death of Midsommar.
Midsommar is an American-Swedish folk-horror film in which a group of PhD anthropology students travel to the Hårga village of Sweden to celebrate Midsummer. The movie focuses on Dani, who is haunted by the recent and brutal death of her parents while dealing with the falling apart of her relationship with her boyfriend Christian, who has accompanied her to Sweden. With a film directed by an American director, acted out by (mostly) non-Swedish actors speaking English, and filmed in Budapest, the question is inevitable: “Is this film even Swedish?”
There is no doubt that Midsummer is a Swedish holiday. The landscape, while in reality is Hungarian, looks the same as Sweden. However, the factor which undeniably validates Midsommar as “Swedish” is hidden in the background, left as an afterthought compared to the extravagance and terror of the foreground. The art painted onto the back of the walls, woven around the character’s costumes, and decorated up the maypole of the Midsommar links this film to Sweden through a manner so strong that only art can produce.
Swedish folk art often uses the Rosmålning style, an art form used mainly for the decoration of wood. The style constitutes predominantly of primary and secondary colors, using a calligraphic style of lining, geometric, and natural elements to decorate Swedish houses, furniture, ornaments, and objects. Although highly decorative and elegant, the Rosmålning style is not intended to be pretentious. Rather, the use of bright colors and elements of Swedish fauna and flora is to be inviting.
The Rosmålning style is seen throughout the film, most noticeably in the building where the characters of Midsommar sleep. Spread out across the walls are murals of villagers, animals, as well as the traditional linear patterns and borders that the Swedes incorporate into their everyday objects. From the very first shot of the film, the entire plot of the movie is shown in a mural painted by Ragnar Persson. This mural is a visual representation of the script, from the death of Dani’s parents to the final burning of the affekts (the final shot of the movie shows Dani recreating the smile of the sun on the far right).
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- Bushman, J., & Danielsson, A. (2005). Bårder för dekormålning. Stockholm: Bergh.
- Hafeez, U. (2020, November 10). Interview with Ulla Hafeez [Personal interview].
- Han, K. (2019, July 18). An exclusive deep dive into Midsommar’s eerie paintings. Retrieved December 15, 2020.
- Köster, H., Cavalli-Björkman, G., & Lindwall, B. (1982). The World of Carl Larsson. La Jolla, CA, CA: Green Tiger Press.
- Spadoni, R. “Midsommar: Thing Theory.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 37.7 (2 April 2020): 711–726.
- Yalcinkaya, G. (2020, July 09). The artist behind Midsommar’s murals on the meaning behind the madness. Retrieved November 17, 2020.