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Modern Art Oxford opens major exhibition of works by Hannah Ryggen
Installation view. Photo: Ben Westoby.

OXFORD.- Modern Art Oxford presents a major exhibition of works by Hannah Ryggen (1894-1970), one of Scandinavia’s most outstanding artistic figures of the 20th century. Ryggen is renowned for her monumental tapestries dealing with the pressing social and political concerns of her time. Bringing together 16 powerful works from Norway and Sweden, the exhibition offers the first in-depth exploration of Ryggen’s work for a UK audience. Hannah Ryggen: Woven Histories runs from 11 November 2017 until 18 February 2018 and entry is free.

Hannah Ryggen’s practice was distinguished by her impassioned response to contemporary socio-political events, both regional and international. Her work dealt with a range of issues from the rise of fascism (Ethiopia, 1935), the Nazi occupation of Norway (6 October 1942, 1943) and its impact on her own family (Grini, 1945, which depicts her husband’s internment in a prison camp), to the proliferation of nuclear power (Mr Atom, 1952) and the Vietnam War (Blood in the Grass, 1966).

Born in 1894 in Malmö, Sweden, Ryggen’s introduction to art began with evening classes in painting whilst she was working as a schoolteacher. It was not until she attended a study visit to Dresden in 1922 that she abandoned painting in favour of dedicating her practice to weaving.

In 1924, Hannah Ryggen moved to the remote farming community of Ørlandet in Norway’s Trondheimsfjord with her husband. Here Ryggen learned processes of treating wool, spinning and weaving. With a custom-built loom, she began experimenting with materials and techniques gleaned from the world around her; using wool from local sheep and creating dyes from moss, lichen and bark. The ideas for her work were drawn from close personal experiences as well as newspaper articles on the tumultuous politics of the day.

Modern Art Oxford’s exhibition surveys the artist’s career, from an early painted self-portrait from 1914 to her tapestries of the 1950s and 1960s. As a self-taught weaver, Ryggen’s development can be traced from works such as Fishing in the Sea of Debt (1933), in which forms and figures are delineated loosely, towards the sharp definition of the body in Mr Atom (1952), by which point Ryggen had perfected her craft.

Ryggen's intense relationship to the events of her time stand at the heart of this exhibition, which includes a series of dramatic works from the 1930s and ‘40s responding to the horror and violence of fascism – themes that hold fresh resonance today.

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