Heimtextil Blog

They are works of elemental power: the wall tapestries of Hannah Ryggen read as woven manifestos, in which the Swedish-Norwegian artist (1894 – 1970) dealt intensively with the social and political conditions and abuses of her time. Now the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt (cultural partner of Messe Frankfurt am Main) is devoting a major one-woman show to her. Thus from 27 September 2019 to 12 January 2020 for the first time the German public will gain a comprehensive insight into her work.

Working from her small self-sufficient farm on the west coast of Norway, Hannah Ryggen created an impressive, politically inspired set of work. She gave the wall tapestry as a medium a completely new role and used her monumental wall hangings to take a clear position and to adopt an unmistakable stance. Thus she launched pictorial attacks on Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, standing up in this way for the victims of fascism and National Socialism. Again and again in her work she also reflected the role of women in a male dominated society. And she engaged actively with the work of other artists such as Picasso or Gauguin.  

“It is her humanist approach and her subjects which make Hannah Ryggen’s art today appear particularly contemporary and relevant to us again”, says Dr. Philipp Demandt, Director of the Schirn. In a time like the present, characterised increasingly by inequality, nationalism and populism, her uncompromising work seems more contemporary than ever.

A trained painter who was self-taught in perfecting her weaving technique, she found the textile materials for her woven art on her farm and in nature. Thus she span wool and coloured it with dyes which she produced herself from plants. She utilised various different pictorial traditions, while developing in her work a quite unique language of design, by fusing elements from folk art and mythology with a clear, modern formal language. Characteristic of her work is her narrative, often scenic or theatrical form of presentation, collage-like compositions, and an intermingling of real, fictional and mystic persons and motifs.    

Central to the exhibition at the Schirn are the anti-fascist and pacifist works of this well-read, well-informed artist. The number of her large-scale works are witness to her enormous creative energy and to her urge to engage dauntlessly with the events of her time.

Header photo: Hannah Ryggen, 6 October 1942, 1943, tapestry of wool and linen, 175 x 419.5 cm, Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum (National Museum of Handicrafts and Design), Trondheim © H. Ryggen, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2019, photograph: Thor Nielsen

Heike Gessulat

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