Marta Bogdanska

2020 - Ongoing

Sweden; Landskrona, Skåne, Sweden

‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’ is my new ongoing project, which I started at Landskrona Foto Residency in October-November 2020.

This project starts my investigations into queer biographies of important figures in literature, culture and the arts. Juxtaposed with the contemporary situation of LGBTQ+ community, it looks at the relevance of uncovering, underlying, bringing back the forgotten, hidden or never told stories from the past. Through choices of specific geographic regions and personas from our common history, I delve deeper into local context at the same time asking broader questions about queer representation, importance of queer biographies and queer history universally.

The term ‘love that dare not speak its name' comes from Oscar Wilde, another famous queer celebrity, and it was used in the 19th century to refer to gay and lesbian love.

The first part of this project follows the footsteps of Selma Lagerlöf, a Swedish writer and the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in literature in 1909 and to be admitted to Swedish Academy in 1914. Selma lived in Landskrona with her aunt Lovisa Lagerlöf between 1885 and 1895. She worked as a country schoolteacher at a high school for girls in the city, while developing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child. She liked the teaching profession and appreciated her students. She had a talent for capturing the children's attention through telling them stories.

On the surface, a stern spinster, or “Snow Queen” as she was called during her life, she proved everyone wrong when her intimate correspondences – which she had asked to be made public only 50 years after her death – revealed a colourful hidden love life. Selma wrote extensively to her two female loves. Finally published in 1990, her enormous collection of private letters, notable amongst which Lagerlöf’s letters to Sophie Elkan, Du lär mig att bli fri (You Teach Me to Be Free) tell a passionate love story that began in 1894 continuing until Elkan’s death in 1921. The letters showed that Selma had a passionate triangle involving another woman, Valborg Olander, whom she met in 1898 and who became her other long-lasting love.

What traces of Selma, her life, and her intimate thoughts & feelings can be found in Landskrona today? How can one connect to her inner-life through photography? I tried finding spaces that she lived in, walked around, attended, or visited. Re-inhabiting the subtle, mysterious, secret atmosphere of her life – reflected in the tissue of the city and space, nature and the sea. In a way she herself sent her own letters into the future, hoping that many years after her death they will find a more open-minded spirit amongst people. Did they? On the other hand I looked at the queer life nowadays in Landskrona and in the region of Skåne. How does this future, the ‘years after’, which Selma so longed for but would never live to see, look like today. How profound is the change for queer people?

The project includes several elements woven together. The archives (images, postcards, documents) related to Selma’s life and fragments of her letters. A series of photographs both digital and analogue that try to trace Selmas elusive, secretive, mysterious feelings, thoughts, underlined with the writer’s love for Swedish legends and tales, and most significantly her love for nature. I look for the fleeting moments that Selma might have had while living in Landskrona. Finally the portrait of a queer community nowadays in the city. I met with 6 persons and with each one of them I created several artworks. With everyone I had a long conversation, which I recorded (and I use quotes from it), followed by a photo shoot, and a video session, during which we recorded each participant reading a favourite quote from Selma’s love letters. What do Andie, Hanna, Jonas, Lila, Martin, and Vanim tell us about queer legacy, the rise of nationalism, activism, and relationship anarchy?

Part of this project involved as well working with the notion of home and belonging, which led me to creation of several collages. I also thought of the materiality of the letters, writings and feelings, which meant experimenting with objects & sculptures. I constructed them using local materials and then photographed the outcomes.

The project looks at Selma’s queer legacy through contemporary lens, and explores if & why such legacy is important. Queering Selma’s biography turns out to be, still nowadays and even in Sweden, a significant gesture. I found out that many people are not aware of that aspect of her life, even in the queer community. I investigate the past through present and present through the past.

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  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: A collage with an archival photo of Selma Lagerlöf's family manor house in Mårbacka in Sunne Municipality in Värmland.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: A collage made from an archival letter (so-called crossed letter, a common practice in the beginning of 19th century to save space and money on postage) and an archival photograph of Selma Lagerlöf and Sophie Elkan. Selma and Sophie exchanged hundreds of letters, and they also always traveled together.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Nature around Landskrona and Skåne region.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Martin is a gardener and an artist. He spends half of the year in Landskrona tending to gardens. He is deeply attached to nature and talk for hours about plants, flowers, and nature.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Nature around Landskrona and Skåne region.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Hanna dancing salsa on the beach before going to take a cold bath in Ribersborgs Kallbadhus in Malmö, which she does almost every day. Every summer she tries to attend one of the many feminist summer schools in Scandinavia, following her interests in women self-organising, alternative education and women gathering tradition.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Nature around Landskrona and Skåne region.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Rainbow ice cream that I found in my freezer after arriving in Landskrona, left by Monica Allende, Landskrona Foto Festival Artistic Director, who stayed there before me. I incorporated the ice cream into my project taking a series pf photographs while they were melting and disintegrating.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: I work with the matter a lot in this project. This is an example of 'leaf letters', a series of works relating to letter writing and nature.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Jonas is a gay man, who is originally from Germany. He is a journalist and an activist. He finds Selma's writing very relevant today and sees a great deal of danger coming from the rise of nationalistic ideas in Sweden.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Tattoos covering Vanim's arm. Vanim is a queer person, who believes in open relationships. He has been active in queer movements his whole life, and even received death threats at some point, which led him to leave the country to study in US.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Andie is a gender-queer person. They live in Landskrona since a few years with a family (a trans woman wife and two kids). Andie is a high positioned IT specialist working in a gaming industry. They traveled a lot, and lived in Iceland for a long time. Andie is one of the creators of Relationship Anarchy Manifesto.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Jonas with seaweed at the seaside. Jonas believes that there are pros and cons to the LGBTQ normalisation and integration in Sweden. The nuclear family is on the rise and the individualism has taken over all alternative lifestyles that could be more revolutionary and more queering.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Spectacular rocks on the coast of Skåne.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: A pastor clergy vestment with a special rainbow ornament in front of the altar of Albertina Kyrka in Landskrona. The Swedish Church has been supportive of LGBTQ+ community and as I was told wants to make up for the pain and suffering caused by its actions in the past.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Vanim is also an academic and a Mormon. As a very committed and open person, he deeply believes in organising, activism and alternative ways of thinking He has been researching the issues related to mental health in LGBTQ+ community.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Lila is an activist, cultural worker and manager. She / They identify (ies) as trans person. Lila had to come out five times in her life and thinks it is a never ending process. A great admirer of Selma's work Lila thinks herself very alike even physically.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: Scan of an analog photograph of a fragment of Selma Lagerlöf's statue located at the seaside in Landskrona and erected in 2009. In 2013 the said statue went missing and was found a few hours later in nearby bushes. Selma wrote a lot in her life. She was a celebrity and she inspired early Swedish cinema. her most famous books include 'The Wonderful Adventures of Nils', 'Jerusalem' and 'Gösta Berling's Saga'.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: A sculpture that I created in Landskrona using local materials found on the beach and in the fields.

  • ‘LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME’: A collage with an archival photo of Selma Lagerlöf's first lodging house in a school for girls in Landskrona in Sweden.