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What books and art can we expect to be in Sweden’s future cultural canon?

Sweden's culture minister has not ruled out questions on the planned Swedish cultural canon being included in a future citizenship test. So to give you a head start, here are our bets on the books and artworks that might be included.

What books and art can we expect to be in Sweden's future cultural canon?
The writer Selma Lagerlöf will definitely get into the canon. Photo: SvD/TT

Given the influence of Denmark on the far-right Sweden Democrats, there’s a good chance that the Swedish cultural canon will follow the Danish example, and include architecture, visual arts, design and crafts, film, literature, music, performing arts, and children’s culture.

If the plans go ahead, you can expect vigorous debate in Sweden’s national newspapers on what works should be included and what should be left out, how much emphasis should be put on 19th-century classics, and how much on modern pop culture. 

There’s already a fair amount of consensus on the greats of Swedish literature, not so much so when it comes to paintings and other visual arts. 

Leaving all that aside, here are our suggestions for some of the most obvious works the experts might want to include. 


Fredmans epistlar (Fredman’s Epistles) This collection of 82 songs by Carl Michael Bellman, the 18th century poet, includes many of Sweden’s most beloved songs. Some of those songs, such as Gubben Noach (old man Noah), or Vila vid denna källa, are still sung today when drinking snaps. The songs are purportedly sung by Fredman, the drunken clockmaker who is a character created by Bellman. 

Doktor Glas (Doctor Glass). This diary novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, is a piece of late-19th century existentialism in the vein of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and was in 2002 described by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood as “as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published”. It’s a deeply unsettling novel, given the way the protagonist justifies carrying out a murder. 

Röda rummet (the Red Room) or Hemsöborna (The People of Hemsö) These novels by the realist 19th-century writer August Strindberg would be perverse to leave out and are already read by most Swedish teenagers at school.  Röda rummet gives a vivid portrait of bohemian life in late 19th century Stockholm while Hemsöborna brings alive the impoverished life of islanders in the Stockholm archipelago. Failing that, one of the Strindberg’s plays, such as the tragedy Fröken Julie, might be included. 

Gösta Berling’s Saga (The tale of Gösta Berling) or Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils). At least one of these novels by the writer Selma Lagerlöf is certain to make it onto the list. The former is a realist depiction of rural life in Värmland during the 1820s, the latter a fantasy novel about a boy who travels around Sweden from Skåne to Lapland and back on a goose. 

Kris (Crisis). This autobiographical and modernist novel by Karin Boye, written in 1934, follows an existential crisis that tests the narrator’s Christian faith, partly because she falls in love with another female student at her teaching academy. Boye is most famous as a poet, with the poem Ja visst gör det ont arguably her best-known work. Of her novels,the dystopian science fiction novel Kallocain is also a contender for canon status. 

Ångest or Dvärgen. Ångest (Anxiety), is perhaps the most famous poem by Pär Lagerkvist, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951 (somewhat controversially as he was a member of the awarding body, the Swedish Academy, at the time). The first line, “Anxiety. Anxiety is my inheritance,” is one of the most famous lines of Swedish poetry. The novel Dvärgen (The Dwarf), which takes the form of a diary kept by an evil-minded dwarf at the court of a Prince in Renaissance Italy, is a dark and funny reaction to fascism and totalitarianism in World War II. 

Utvandrarna (the Emigrants). The first book in the four-book series, The Emigrants, brings to life the difficult conditions of small-time farmers in Småland in the late 19th century, explaining through different characters the various reasons why they sought to find a new life in the USA. The books were written by Vilhelm Moberg, who himself grew up in a working-class family in Småland. 

Häxringarna (The Women and the City quartet). This series of historical novels by Kerstin Ekman documents the transformation of the town of Katrineholm from a small railway station to a modern industrial town, using chiefly female main characters to describe Sweden’s industrial development and its impact on ordinary people. 

Roman om ett brott (Novel about a crime). This series of ten crime novels, by the novelist couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, pretty much launched Swedish crime literature, and also introduced the detective Martin Beck to the world. The books attempt to realistically depict police work in Sweden, contain social criticism reflecting the couple’s left-wing views, and also began the Scandi Noir tradition of describing detectives’ domestic troubles.  

Mördare utan ansikte (Faceless Killers). This is the first of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series of detective novels. Will Swedish crime make an appearance? It depends on how highbrow the experts decide to be. 

Visual Arts

Girls from Dalarna Having a Bath (c. 1908). 

This is one of the most famous paintings by Anders Zorn, the great Swedish 19th-century artist. You can find it in the National Museum in Stockholm. 

De tio största nr 3 Ynglingaåldern

Hilma av Klimt, from the early 20th century, is currently seeing a revival in interest, with posters of her abstract, spiritual paintings now up on bedroom and living room walls around Sweden. 

Midvinterblot. This was the last monumental work of the 19th-20th century Swedish artist Carl Larsson, and takes up an entire wall of the Swedish Nationalmuseet museum in Stockholm. When it was finished in 1915 it was initially rejected as historically inaccurate, and because it involved the sacrifice of a king. 

Carl Larsson: Midvinterblot.NM 6971

Skända flaggan (Defile the flag). Carl Johan de Geer

This piece of 1960s protest art led to a police raid when it was displayed in Stockholm in 1967, making the name of the artist Carl Johan de Geer. As well as being an artist, de Geer has also been a successful TV producer, publisher, musician, filmmaker, and general cultural figure. If this is included, it would probably be a sign that the Sweden Democrats don’t have too much influence. 

Den vita bron: KG Nilson. The painter and graphic designer K.G Nilson (1942-) is certainly a contender for inclusion in the canon, but it’s hard to pick on a particular work. 


Will the controversial artist Lars Vilks have a place in the canon? You can be sure that once the expert committee has been set up to draw up a list of works, some on the far-Right will begin to propose his inclusion. His provocative drawings of the prophet Mohammed as a roundabout dog made him a target for Islamic extremists from the time they were published in 2007 right up until his death in a car crash in 2021. Before this, he had made his name by illegally building strange wooden structures in the Kulleberg nature reserve in northern Skåne, with Nimis (pictured below), the most famous. 


Till Elfriede Jelinek, Karin Mamma Andersson

Karin Mamma Andersson is probably the Swedish painter who is most famous today, with a recent exhibition in Copenhagen’s Louisiana Art Gallery. We can’t find a picture we can use of Till Elfriede Jelinek, one of her most famous works, but you can see it here

Karin Mamma Andersson is one of Sweden’s most famous painters active today. Photo: Staffan Lšwstedt/SvD/TT

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Daddy cool: Swedish dads go viral as boy band

Five Swedish fathers singing capella pop songs while taking care of their young children have taken social media by storm, with their videos garnering tens of millions of views.

Daddy cool: Swedish dads go viral as boy band

The five men, all in their 30s, film their “Dad Harmony” sessions while hanging out with their kids at home in the northern town of Skellefteå.

“This story all started at my bachelor party” in the summer of 2022, Peter Widmark, a 33-year-old who works in sales, told AFP in an interview. “We were hanging out and singing as we usually do when we hang out… (and) my brother filmed it and put it on TikTok with his seven followers.”

The next morning the dads discovered the video had been viewed 40,000 times. The number had skyrocketed to 20 million hits worldwide within a few weeks.

The five friends decided to start posting videos regularly, shot in their kitchens or on their sofas, often holding their little ones on their laps.

Singing the chorus of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah”, one of the dads can be seen holding his weeks-old newborn in his arms.

“It’s a soothing thing when we sing,” Widmark said, explaining why the children are usually so calm in the videos.

‘Typical Swedish guys’

“We are typical Swedish guys,” said Widmark’s brother Tomas, who is also part of the group, adding it was “not that unusual” for men in Sweden to spend a lot of time with their children.

“Almost every guy in Sweden is used to taking paternity leave so it’s not a big deal for us,” he added.

Each of the dads has two kids.

Dad Harmony’s repertoire includes hits by Michael Jackson, the Beatles and popular Christmas songs.

Since the end of November the group has been on a month-long tour criss-crossing Sweden to perform live shows each weekend – albeit without their kids.

During the weeks, they go back to Skellefteå and continue to work at their normal jobs and spend time with their families.

The members of Dad Harmony in an interview with AFP. Photo: Viken Kantarci/AFP

“I just stumbled on their video on Instagram and I was mesmerised,” said Louise Elgström, a 41-year-old fan who attended a recent show in the town of Norrköping.

She said their appeal lies in the fact that “they feel so natural and also (that they are) involving their children”.

The dads vow their success won’t go to their heads. “No televisions flying from the hotel rooms!” joked band member Sebastian Åkesson.

But the group has big dreams: they hope to line up tour dates in the United States and Asia, and say they would love to sing with Elton John one day.