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Vanus Labor
Salad Hilowle

The life of a black slave boy who was taken from the West Indies to Sweden in the middle of the 18th century and who spent most of his life at the court where king Gustavus III grew up and later reigned, is the starting point for this film. Coschi kept a diary and he is also mentioned in memoirs and letters from the time. Famous artists painted his portrait, but then as “Badin”, his given name which means “jester”. Made upon graduating from The Royal Institute of Art, which was founded as the Royal Academy of Art by Gustavus III in 1773, in the film contains fragments from the diary read by the artist himself, images from royal parks with sculptures of black fishermen and the ruins of a royal palace that was never completed. The current building of the academy, a make shift studio and the back of a black man with sarons with traditional Somali patterns are also featured.

The film is atmospheric, mixing dramatic music and a specially written opera aria performed by a black woman: “Here I am. I am Ur-Assynja, The future is welcoming me. And I am arriving, I am arriving.” The title Vanus Labor (Vanity’s Labor) comes from the court painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl’s work from around 1700 depicting a group of white children washing a black child, two of whom became future rulers of Sweden, Charles XII and Ulrika Eleonora the younger. Do the children want the dark baby to be like them?

Or is the washing a sign of care and reverence? In a silent part of the film, black people move slowly in a historical museum, watching the paintings on the walls which are only showing white people. One of the paintings at the museum is Vanus Labor. The museum is located in Gävle, the hometown of the artist, and the visitors are members of his family as well as friends.

Aspect ratio 1.78:1 (16:9)
Prod. format
Duration 00:12:56
Language Swedish
Color Color
Sound Stereo
Year 2021
Latest screening Dec 1, 2023
Nov 25, 2023
Jul 1, 2023
Mar 25, 2023
Mar 21, 2023
Sep 15, 2023
May 18, 2022
May 8, 2022
Apr 23, 2022
Dec 9, 2021
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About the artist

Salad Hilowle

Salad Hilowle is an artist and filmmaker based in Stockholm. He was born in Mogadishu in 1986 and moved to Gävle eight years later. His work revolves around identity, memory and place, making people of African origin visible in various Swedish contexts, now and in the past.

Using a wide array of artistic means, especially video, photography and installations, Hilowle questions the precarious border between acceptance and rejection. At the same time he is exploring how his background can be reintroduced into cultural narratives as part of a struggle to proclaim identities, which have been present for a long time but have been erased or concealed. People of African origin have been living and working in Sweden for many centuries, contributing to culture and society at large. And yet they are largely absent in the public discourse, including the arts, with the exception of criminal contexts.

Hilowle is a maker of poetic images, offering a black gaze on cultural artifacts that construct, limit, and attribute meaning around issues of who belongs and who does not — an act of claiming and longing for a space that can become “at home”. Through his research-based and yet intuitive projects, dealing with experiences of being born in one country and growing up in another, Hilowle gives greater depth and expression to the Afro- Swedish diaspora and to life as an Afro-Swede today. This is emphasized by his inclusion of, and collaboration with, friends, family and relatives in the work.

The artist is not only seeking out and noticing anomalies in cultural narratives, but he is also examining the familiar as if for the very first time. By switching contexts and by changing the scale, color and material of objects, Hilowle makes them impractical and weird, and yet visible. Full of melancholy and elegance, his works attempt to test the resilience of images, objects and bodies in today’s world.