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This seminar considers the imagery and visual style of a series of hand-illustrated newspapers and songbooks produced by the folkets  hus (people’s house) in Nørrebro, Copenhagen, in the 1970s and 80s. Scandinavian peoples’ houses originated to provide meeting  spaces for trade unions in the late-19th century, but, by the middle of the 20th, had evolved into comprehensive spaces for socialisation, celebration, and social democratic activism, effectively de-centralizing the loci of political activity from the city center administrative  buildings to residential neighbourhoods and offering secular alternatives to the sense of unity historically provided by churches. The  newspapers and songbooks accompanied their worker’s hymns, essays, poetry, news bulletins, and public service announcements with humorous illustrations depicting the local population of Nørrebro, traditionally a working-class and immigrant district. The minimal black and-white illustrations evoke simultaneously serialised comics, children’s books, and ‘DIY’ zine production by grassroots organizations. Through all its humor and accessibility, material produced maintained a steadfast commitment to left-wing politics, welfare, and global human rights causes, and this visual identity was made three dimensional in the adjacent Folkets Park sculpture garden and playground. Collectively, these works formed a micro-visual culture characterised by collaboration, repurposing, and reproducibility.  

The artists of the Nørrebro Folkets Hus saw democracy as both the ultimate goal of their collective and the shared core value of the community. The Nordic countries have managed to maintain stable, humane, and functional social democracies. This was neither a coincidence nor a given, but I believe a result several auspicious factors, one of which was the infiltration of social democratic identity into public consciousness through visual culture. The focus of welfare-state visual culture in Europe has thus far been architecture of public housing, schools, and hospitals. However, I believe ephemeral, user-made artworks from workers’ communities in urban Denmark offers critical alternative view of welfare visual culture formed from the bottom up. This seminar presents a participatory, family-friendly, and community-minded mode of artmaking that connects global democratic struggle with local identity. I pose the question that this tradition might partly responsible for, and born from, the broad adoption of social democratic attitudes in Denmark. 


Courtney Schum is in her 2nd year of a PhD in History of Art at University of Bristol under the supervision of Professors Mike O’Mahony and Dorothy Price. Ms Schum is interested in 20th-century European design and architecture, theories of place and urbanism, and the material culture of welfare systems. Using architecture, public art, graphic design, sculpture, printed material, and film, her thesis, 'A Meeting Place for All': The Folkets Hus and Visual Culture of the Danish Labour Movement, 1879 to Present Day assesses expressions of Danish social democratic attitudes emerging from the workers’ assembly buildings of Copenhagen.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.