The Immigrant Artist Biennial: Matilda Forsberg

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Matilda Forsberg, Feeding rite, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 36”

The Immigrant Artist Biennial (TIAB) is a volunteer, female-led, artist-run project. TIAB 2020 launched in March in New York City at Brooklyn Museum, and continued in September through December at EFA Project Space, Greenwood Cemetery, and virtually, presenting 60+ artists. This interview series features 10 participating artists.

Matilda Forsberg’s paintings explore heritage, identity, and the duality between the past and present. Her practice is inspired by the complexities of family and cultural tradition, and its emotional and psychological influence on individuals as independent beings. Originally from Sweden, Matilda Forsberg is based in Newark, NJ where she is currently a resident artist at Gallery Aferro. Her work has been exhibited across the country in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and Portland (OR). She received her BFA in Painting from Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, Oregon.

Do artists have political responsibilities at this moment, if so, what are they? 

I think everyone, whether an artist or not, has political responsibilities at all times, and especially at times like this. Artists can certainly contribute in many ways by reflecting or commenting on the world around them, by creating greater awareness and empathy around certain issues, but art serves to convey the entire spectrum of the human experience. So I don’t necessarily think it is the responsibility of each and every artist to create political art. However, I do think it is critically important that art institutions and curators take on the political responsibility of presenting exhibitions that create dialogue around current discourse and represent a diverse set of voices.

Reflect on an encounter of displacement, becoming, belonging, trauma, healing, or simply comic relief from your journey of immigration. 

After living in the US for a while I started to embrace the American culture and way of life (well, parts of it), but I never felt like it was my home or my country. But yet, every time I went back “home”, I started to realize more and more that I didn’t feel quite at home there either. So I found myself in a situation where I felt like I didn’t really belong anywhere. I started to question the idea of home – being challenges your understanding of personal identity. It’s still a journey but I have come to embrace the richness of having two cultures (actually three for me) and how to adapt to my new home and identity in America, which encompasses parts of my background and heritage.

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Matilda Forsberg, So many words lost, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 16”

. How has the turn toward the digital and virtual affected your artistic practice?

The main benefit is being able to reach a wider audience and sharing work with people near and far. For TIAB they did an amazing job with the exhibition website and it was very exciting to be able to share it with my family and friends in Sweden. The turn towards digital, even long before the pandemic, also provided helpful platforms like Instagram that helped me get my work out there and connect with artists and curators that I might never have met otherwise. But to me, nothing can replace the immense satisfaction of seeing and experiencing art in a physical space, and being able to interact with a piece of art with all of your senses. The same goes for meeting and connecting with people in person.

Tell us about the work you are exhibiting in The Immigrant Artist Biennial.

This series of paintings meditates on place and finding a sense of belonging. The narratives originated from photo archives of my daughter’s Chinese side of the family who emigrated from Hong Kong to Miami. I was drawn to explore this imagery partly because very few verbal accounts of their stories existed and because I had taken part many of the family’s culturally specific traditions for so long that it felt like this heritage had become part of my own history. The paintings reflect on imagery of shared experiences and rituals as well as family visits from afar, gatherings with new friends, combined with my own memories and feelings of the place or situation, and to me signify feelings of a loss of a larger personal narrative and a search for new bonds and identities.

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  Matilda Forsberg, A tender memory, a child’s wish fulfilled, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 12”

Please share a piece of advice or a resource that may be useful to an immigrant artist. 

My advice is simply to talk and connect with other people with immigrant backgrounds. It has never been a conscious one, but in my choice of friends I’ve always gravitated towards other first or second-generation immigrants, and developing these connections has been helpful in understanding my practice and myself. The Immigrant Artist Biennial is an amazing project and obviously a great way to learn about and connect with other immigrant artists.

The Immigrant Artist Biennial’s virtual exhibitions are open through December 18th 2020, visit them here, and a list of their ongoing events here,

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Left in that Miami backyard, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 30”

All photo courtesy of the artist

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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a New York-based Swedish/Guyanese independent curator and the founding editor-in-chief of Cultbytes, an online art publication focusing on interdisciplinary and non-hierarchical art criticism. Alongside an all-female volunteer team, she currently serves as an advisor and co-curator for the inaugural “The Immigrant Artist Biennial.”