Listening: Here & Elsewhere. Life Stories at Fisksätra Museum

Fisksätra museum


Milagros Bedoya, Olivia Berkowicz, Hannah Clarkson, Cherine Hussein, Konstantina Pappa, Matilda Tucker, Didem Yildirim

“Fisksätra museum is a cultural and political laboratory.”

Located in Fisksätra, a suburb in the east of Stockholm, the museum’s main objective regarding the content of its work is to explore and shape ideas related to urban justice, civic participation and empowerment, by researching issues around immigration, racism, unemployment, inequality and political power. For this reason, the museum’s focus is on situating Fisksätra in both a local and a global context. Based on a community that is characterized by immigration, with Fisksätra’s inhabitants coming from almost 125 nations, the museum employs notions of cultural heritage as a tool in order to address these issues. They consider their local heritage as a mosaic of people’s stories, global experiences and memories carried in their bodies.

This specific focus is reflected in the museum’s long-lasting project of collecting residents’ life stories, in the form of interviews which are also exhibited in the museum. This archive goes deep into people’s personal lives, as they narrate stories of migration: cultural, political, economic, and social conditions that are located “here and elsewhere.” The life-stories archive, in addition to being a documentation and research method, is seen by the museum as a tool for empowerment. “Fisksätra museum – att berätta sig in i världen” is how the museum chooses to introduce itself, which can be translated as “to narrate yourself into the world”. In that sense, the collection of interviews – with narration as a method – is used to counter feelings and experiences of injustice, exclusion, and “not being listened to.”

Empowerment is also a key notion behind the choice of the term ‘museum’; a challenge to the ‘traditional’ institution and a bold exploration of how a museum can be meaningfully situated in Fisksätra. For this reason, Fisksätra museum is mainly working with collaborative projects, based on the participation of the local community, in order to investigate the conditions of everyday life and processes of knowledge production by employing various artistic methods. The museum engages in participatory artistic projects with different local groups, such as children and teenagers or women from the area, while trying to incorporate Fisksätra and their discussions into a broader, more global context. The long-term planning and duration of these projects aim to explore in depth the conditions of knowledge production and create interpersonal relationships between the participants and the museum.

Fisksätra museum was first established in 2010, but acquired a physical space after five years of being active. It is now located in a ground-floor, two-room apartment, a typical example of the area’s architecture, with immediate access to the neighbourhood’s main public square. Between the commercial center, the municipal library, and the church, the museum’s location has not only been vital for its existence and its engagement with the local community, but has also shaped its artistic program. The square is considered an extension to the museum, often occupied for activities such as exhibitions, performances, film screenings, and festivals, due to a need for space.

Fisksätra museum and the content of its work is specific to the local context and cannot be separated from the neighbourhood, both as a physical space and as a collective of people and their stories. The suburb of Fisksätra has a population of more than 8000 people and is the most densely populated area in Sweden (according to 2018 official statistics). The suburb was developed in 1971-74 as part of the ‘Million project’, a massive state-driven initiative for public housing that aimed to cover the needs of a growing population in Sweden after the ‘60s. The municipality of Nacka sold the residential and commercial buildings to the private developer Stena Fastigheter AB in 1996, following a wave of housing privatisation that started in 1991. The tense relationship of the private stakeholders and the municipality with the residents, regarding for example public infrastructure or housing rentals, has been the starting point for several projects and discussions on urban development and injustice.

The museum’s main objective, as we understand it, is to become an amplifier for Fisksätra’s voice: to exhibit people’s stories, to narrate the conditions of everyday life, and to represent the neighbourhood’s essence through artistic practices. In our engagement with the museum and local community, we hope to tap into these existing themes and structures, whilst experimenting with methods and perspectives through storytelling and listening; materialising and interrupting notions of the everyday in Fisksätra and elsewhere.

A neighbourhood can be a physical place in which people dwell together, or a threshold to other places, a portal to stories which allow us to inhabit a place we are no longer in or have not yet visited. Storytelling can give us a sense of being ‘here and elsewhere’, can transport us to other worlds, at least for a time. Walking – both physically and virtually – through the neighbourhood of Fisksätra, we hope to allow these stories and their narrators a voice, inviting people to share their stories, in response to questions of their everyday – gossip and grievances, jokes and joys, stories and songs – and listen to those of others, seeing their everyday surroundings differently for a while. The sound of voices will be focused, concentration amplified, in an attempt to embody the concept of listening, in a place near or far, and map the neighbourhood through its stories and sounds, zooming in and out of the everyday.