Ella Tillema

When the red flames of the blast furnace have died down and the sunlight is shut out, the darkness is enhanced by the large black painting. The visitor steps into the darkness, and becomes a participant in the artist’s pain and sorrow over the state of the world. Beautiful words about every person’s right to life, equality and dignity are reduced to ashes when protection is denied to fellow human beings who have fled for their lives from war, terror and oppression. Despair takes hold – stays with the visitor, bringing reflection and, hopefully, clarity. “With all the colours of the palette at my disposal, I chose to paint in black,” says the artist. “It is the most drastic action I can take in my art. Sweden had closed its borders for refugees in desperate need of help. This is not a decision one person alone can overthrow. All of us who protested were far too weakly linked to change it. Black is a symbol of sorrow, terror and death. Here, it also expresses powerlessness.” Opposite the black painting, we meet a woman – so realistically portrayed it startles the viewer. She is facing away, her back straight, casually dressed. She could be any one of us. The space created between the paintings is filled with music. The melodies are in a minor key. They are played by Röda Kapellet (“The Red Orchestra”), an amateur ensemble of thirty-four musicians, who otherwise perform on 1 May, International Workers’ Day. Any Swedish listener could easily sing along with the familiar lyrics conveying hope and confidence, which are sung at school graduations, sporting events and national holidays. Yet here, the harmony is clearly distorted. Faith in the future cannot sound in the dark. Ella Tillema’s art greets the visitor even before they enter the ironworks. Black banners with fringe and tassels are enthroned on the façade of the building – the first sight for all arrivals. Inside, another hanging adorns the wall of iron ore. The blackness in the work reveals the void that is formed when hope is gone. The handshake between two suit-clad arms becomes an agreement that nothing can be changed. “Are we the first generation without hope?” wonders the artist. “The people who worked in the ironworks were hopeful – confident that their toil would give them and their families better homes, a better life. My parents’ generation saw changes that meant positive developments. We young adults today no longer believe that things can get better. Individualism has stealthily taken over, killed the collective struggle.” In the darkness, dangers lie hidden. But the dark also offers protection and can be a place where resistance can grow. “With my art, I process my grief over this terrible world,” says Tillema. Yet her meticulously realistic paintings offer a glimpse of hope. Her ability to depict objective and realistic motifs also offers beauty. The stunning painting opens the senses, giving light to new possibilities. “All choices are short-term today. If we felt more community and solidarity in our everyday lives, we would be ashamed of actions that were disloyal. We who are alive today must understand our responsibility to future generations. With more community and solidarity, we can create a better life, with lower material standards.” Ella Tillema’s works at Avesta Art are entitled Vem som än vinner/är det vi som/förlorar (Whoever wins/it will be us/ losing) and Man kan väl inte ändra hela jävla systemet (One can’t change the whole damn system). She is also exhibiting large-scale paintings with children as a motif. The children are looking towards an unknown future. Ella Tillema was born in 1983 in Stockholm, studied at the Malmö Art Academy and now resides in Malmö. She was awarded the Ljungberg Museum Award for “daring to raise her voice against social injustice and stereotypical conceptions”. She was also awarded the Malmö Konsthall stipend.