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21.02.2015
01.04.2015

Ásmundur Sveinsson: The Water Carrier–Mountain+Woman

On 21 February 2015 the exhibition The Water Carrier: MOUNTAIN+WOMAN opens at the Ásmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum on Sigtún in Reykjavík. The exhibition commemorates the centenary of Icelandic women gaining the right to vote, under a royal decree of 19 June 1915. Ásmundur Sveinsson’s iconic sculpture Vatnsberinn /The Water Carrier (1937) is the focus and the leitmotiv of the exhibition. In the days before Reykjavík’s municipal water utility was established in 1909, water-carriers were among the humblest members of the town’s social hierarchy.  Both men and women were water-carriers – though rather more women. And while the water-carriers’ job  was one of the least respected and worst paid in Reykjavík, it is believed to have been the only work in which men and women had equal pay.

Ásmundur sculpted his Water Carrier to honour the memory of the water-carriers and to portray their strength and fortitude; and in making his sculpture he had in mind the massy mountain ranges of Iceland. Some Reykjavík people, however, were far from feeling honoured by the sculpture, and a proposal to erect it in the centre of town led to a long-running controversy from 1948 to 1955, which was not free of political overtones. The Water Carrier was declared to be “monstrous,” and a “freak with the head of a seal,” and there were even threats to destroy the work.  In later years the Water Carrier was the emblem of posters for the famous Women’s Day Off in 1975, UN International Women’s Year: the strong woman with her pails of water had come to symbolise women’s history. That is a sign of how much the Zeitgeist had changed in the intervening years; and also to underline how dangerous it is for politicians to seek to control artistic trends and aesthetic values. This story is well worth revisiting, along with photographs and historical documentation about the water-carriers of old Reykjavík.

The exhibition will include, in addition to the Water Carrier, a selection of Ásmundur’s other sculptures, in a colloquy with works by Arna Valsdóttir, Daníel Magnússon, Kristín Gunnlaugsdóttir, Níels Hafstein, Ólöf Nordal, Ragnhildur Stefánsdóttir and Sigurður Guðmundsson. Nýlókórinn – the Icelandic Sound Poetry Choir – will perform at the opening of the exhibition, conducted by Snorri Birgir Sigfússon. The exhibition will be open until 19 April 2015.

Curator is Harpa Björnsdóttir.