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Sylwan
BY
Salad Hilowle

In the commissioned film Sylwan, Astrid Lindgren’s famous story about Pippi Longstocking becomes a window to an overlooked side of Swedish history. It is a story about the first documented Afro-Swedish actor Joe Sylwan, and his family of performers and actors, who played a minor part in the first and rarely screened 1949 film adaptation of Pippi. Later, Sylwan’s son, Ramon, played Starke Adolf [Strong Adolf] in the more well- known television version of Pippi from 1969, frequently shown on Swedish Television and exported to many other countries.

Starke Adolf works at the circus and is introduced as the strongest man in the world — any man who dares is invited to challenge him in wrestling. However, for Pippi, who is not a man but the strongest girl ever, he is no match and she easily wrestles him down to the delight of the audience. In the visually seductive Sylwan, an actor playing Joe Sylwan enters the stage of an eighteenth-century theatre and tells the true story of a racist attack on Joe Sylwan, which led to a much-publicized trial in Stockholm in 1932.

Dramatizing documentary material, as well as drawing on his own memory of going to the movies for the first time to see the Pippi film, Hilowle combines striking images with documentary accounts from the Sylwan family.

Aspect ratio 1,78:1 (16:9)
Prod. format
Duration 00:15:20
Language Swedish
Color BW
Sound Stereo
Year 2022
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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.

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