Lena Svedberg was one of Sweden’s most important artists around 1970. She was also a member of the editorial group of the legendary underground magazine Puss.
During her childhood and youth, Lena Svedberg and her parents were living in Addis Abeba, the capital of Ethiopia, where her father was a political advisor to Emperor Haile Selassie and an aid worker for Save the Children. Her mother was an administrator in adoption matters.
Lena Svedberg started her artistic education in 1965 at the art school Konstskolan Idun Lovén in Stockholm and in the autumn of 1966 she was an external pupil in drawing at Konsthögskolan in Stockholm. From 1967 until 1972 she was an ordinary pupil in painting at Konsthögskolan.
As a clever illustrator, she aimed explicit criticism against the world’s injustices in general and American capitalism in particular. At first, she took her point of departure in her childhood memories from Ethiopia, in which sick and emaciated human figures were used to depict the wrongs and differences between the rich and poor. After having come in contact with artist colleagues like Lars Hillersberg, Ulf Rahmberg and Carl-Johan De Geer at Konsthögskolan, she broadened her circle of themes to depict church representatives, businessmen and international as well as Swedish politicians in a drastic light in unflattering situations. With her realistic style, often using lead pencil or marker pen for her drawings, she created effective, striking pictures — as in the triptych in which the American presidents Lyndon B Johnson, John F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy are all crucified. She often gave her figures grotesque features and exaggerated forms that catch the eye in a worrying way.
When the underground magazine Puss was launched in 1968, Lena Svedberg was one of the editors from the very first number and up until her death in 1972. Her illustrations often appeared on the front cover. One of them showed the minister of finance at the time, Gunnar Sträng, in the lavatory. Her pictures were described by a contemporary critic as effective communicators of claustrophobic feelings and expressing overwhelming anxiety.
In 1968 she was one of the artists in the travelling exhibition Sköna stund produced by the state Riksutställningar. The year after, she showed her suite of pictures Herr Aldman, superhero av världsalltet at the youth biennal in Paris. During the years around 1970, she had regular exhibitions at Galleri Karlsson in Stockholm and cooperated in her artist colleague Öyvind Fahlström’s semi-documentary film Du gamla, du fria in 1972, about a group of anti-imperialist activists. The same year, her pictures were shown in Japan at an exhibition of contemporary Swedish art arranged by the Swedish art promotion committee Nämnden för utställningar av nutida svensk konst i utlandet (NUNSKU).
The other editors of Puss were probably among Lena Svedberg’s closest friends, her most important colleagues and mentors, even though after her death they described her as introvert and hard to get close to. When she committed suicide at the age of only 26 in 1972, it was after a long period of mental illness.
The year that Lena Svedberg would have turned 30, 1976, a memorial exhibition was held at Malmö konsthall. Through the collective exhibition Hjärtat sitter till vänster, shown by the Gothenburg Art Museum in 1998, her art reached out to a new generation. Two years later, in 2000, Carl-Johan De Geer’s film Jag minns Lena Svedberg appeared and in 2011 his book Lena Svedberg: Svensk illustratör och konstnär was published. Her art can be seen in the collections at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Gothenburg Art Museum, the Malmö Art Museum and the Kalmar Art Museum.
Lena Svedberg is buried in the Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm.