Theresa Traore Dahlberg Beckers Art Award 2019

2 February 2019 24 March 2019

Scholarship exhibition
Main hall, Färgfabriken

The 32nd Beckers Art Award – a grant of 200,000 SEK – will this year be awarded to the artist Theresa Traore Dahlberg, born 1983. She has studied  at the New School, in New York, Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Arts and at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm.

Photo: Olof Grind
Copper and Cotton, 2018. Photo: Olof Grind
Photo: Olof Grind
Cotton and Cotton, 2018. Photo: Olof Grind
Copper and Ashes, 2018. Photo: Olof Grind

Traore Dahlberg investigates, through installations, sculptures and video, parts of Burkina Faso’s cultural history, Swedish industry and the value of work and goods that are put in relation to place, time and context.

Traore Dahlberg is also exhibiting a parallel exhibition called Seydoni Pionnier de l’industrie musicale au Burkina at the Musée national du Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. The two exhibitions communicate with each other through the works shown at each location. At Musée national du Burkina Faso, Traore Dahlberg has installed parts of his father’s, Seydou Richard Traore-Seydonis, old cassette factory and music studio Seydoni. Through video, the exhibition in Ouagadougou can also take place at Färgfabriken.

About the artist

Theresa Traore Dahlberg is a visual artist and filmmaker who formulates and mediates engaging complex, narratives through sculpture, photography, and film. Her films narrate stories in the expanded field of documentary including themes such as representation of the other, by questioning how individuals, events and places are perceived, interpreted and understood. The artist finds her working material in everyday life, encounters with people from different places play an important role. Traore Dahlberg’s sculptural works often take a point of departure in the material itself, as a physical material and as a container of histories, ideas, and notions. The artist pays attention to production, working conditions, workers identities and fates of life, creating art that reflects the complexity of class, women’s roles, and post-colonialism. Traore Dahlberg draws from her own experiences of being anchored in two political and social cultures, Sweden and Burkina Faso, and from the implication of living in a contemporary European context.

Traore Dahlberg has exhibited internationally and in Sweden, in such venues as Zeller van Almsick, Vienna, Austria (2018) and Uppsala konstmuseum, Sweden (2018). She has been awarded the Tempo Documentary Short Award for her film The Ambassador’s wife (2018) which was also shown at the Toronto Film festival 2018. Her first film Taxi Sister (2011) was about the everyday life of a Senegalese female taxi driver, and her film Ouaga Girls (2017) was her first feature-length documentary. Additionally, Traore Dahlberg initiated and founded the artist collective OUFF in 2018.

Further reading

Filmmaker and artist Theresa Traore Dahlberg depict themes like courage, power structures, colonialism and feminism: the complexity of being human in a post-colonial world. She explores the possibilities for alternative views based on both the composition of the group and the specific situation of the individual. She approaches the people she portrays with great respect, and her work is characterized by intimacy, humour and a strong visual storytelling.

The starting point of the films is often everyday life, situations that is given an existential dimension, to be human without being marginalized, fighting for your dreams or as a young woman coping with the patriarchal expectations.

Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s work is often categorized as documentary, but she rather sees it as art or like painting. Through multifaceted stories about people in African countries, she raises universal issues, which makes us look at both the general perception of Africa and our own everyday situations in a different light.

Even in her sculptures she uses material that can tell a story, material that holds historical significance. By combining glass, copper and cotton, she allows general connotations such as technology, weapons, microchips, slavery and industry to gain free play, while still talking about the sculptures as independent from time and place. She wants to give each person the opportunity to meet the works based on their own circumstances.

Theresa Traore Dahlberg is awarded Beckers Art Award 2019, because she in her artistry, with great respect, creates a diverse image of individuals with different backgrounds, that she in her films, with subtle means of expression, is able to portray people in complex situations and her object and material combinations that fills the exhibition space with tension both in physical and historical terms.

On behalf of the jury/Magnus Jensner

The allure of shadow play, casted by springs of light streaming in from a passage resting ahead, meets the visitor upon entering an extended corridor serving as a transitional space. To speak of the symbolic significance of a physical transit in Theresa Traore Dahlberg’s exhibition at Färgfabriken, encompassing the entirety of its 700 m2 exhibition room, is to brush on a pivotal theme which is resonant with our times and is marked by that of global shifts in a multitude of domains currently reshaping the world. The passage in question here is the install of Coppers, a work that has come to signify the artist to date and marks the beginning and end of what the audience has been acquainted to already, after which point the exhibition takes new leaps forward in her artistic practice. 

At immediate glance, the work standing four meters tall vertically as a paneled-wall, sees the juxtaposing union between hard-surfaced and industrially produced printed circuit cards and organic materials in the form of yarns of cotton interweaving through the panels. Probing the history of the materials, they are essentially joined together on the account of both representing something “unwanted”, ultimately being discarded materials. In the case of the printed circuit boards they make for redundant outtakes from the last batches of their production in Sweden that is being terminated at the hands of capitalist and economic incentives and realities that equalize in industrial moves to other geographic regions of the world. 

The cotton which is seated in a realm that is traditionally related to as feminine and domestic tells here a universally poignant and centuries-old story about the persecution of women that has always taxed the human condition, while ringing true still in 2019. The cotton is spun by women, who following the exclusion from society in her father’s native Burkina Faso based on accusations of witchery, have since been brought into a collective and social context through labour initiatives. A reminder is brought forth here of the metaphysical notion that the objects and materials that surround us too possess “a life”, vested into them by the human presence presiding over them over time. The narratives that they become bearers of might even reveal themselves varyingly with visible imprints, as is the case with the discarded circuit cards which factory workers have bestowed with their own engraved initials. Coppers illustrates a merger of two geographically distanced sites in the world which on a personal note make part of the artist’s identity, having grown up between both, and reflects a moment in time where the far outposts of the world grow increasingly closer together.  

The printed circuit cards reappear yet again in a new series of works, Untitled Blue unveiled at Färgfabriken, masked in filters of blue which render an aesthetical transformation towards a futuristic appearance. Presented in slope-angled structural formations, the cards point upwards towards the ceiling of the room. It’s a commanding display in disposition and yet aptly poetic, appearing to be telling you to look beyond the thresholds of the already known and to open yourself up to the potentials and possibilities of the future. 

For the exhibition, Theresa Traore Dahlberg also explores a notion from the past by bringing back to light a fixture from Burkina Faso’s cultural-history; her father Seydou Richard Traore-Seydoni’s pioneering life’s work of setting grounds for Burkina Faso’s own musical recording industry. To speak of “unboxing” its history for the exhibition is more than merely metaphoric in so far as literally being what had to be done, with her finding that what once used to be the infrastructure of an entire industry up until recently had been resorted to dust and shambles in storage. Intersecting with the story of a national legacy is also a highly personal family-narrative where the artist speaks of a near bitter-sweet sentiment towards her father’s musical involvement during her formative years. She compares his work to that of something bearing a physical embodiment; another family-member or child taking precedence over the rest. 

Opening on the same day as the exhibition at Färgfabriken, in cross-national parallel conjunction, is a grand retrospective survey, Seydoni Pionnier de l’industrie musicale au Burkina, at the Musée national du Burkina Faso in Ouagadougou which examines the history of the domestic musical industry. Theresa Traore Dahlberg uses her carte-blanche at Färgfabriken to create a physical and mediated link between the two museums, by extending the premises of Färgfabriken through a projection of the museum room in Ouagadougou into the very room in Liljeholmen. The exhibition in Ouagadougou chronicles an archival and ongoing restoration process of a musical body of work that the visitor is invited to take part in, through an interactive installation of a back catalogue of cassette tapes and music videos screened at Färgfabriken. 

It’s a unique moment, dissolving national boundaries and the delineation of tangible space. If the stories we tell and want to pass on through generations is left at the behest of our own will and efforts to write, record and document them, then the fallibility of memory and time, subtly begins to make itself known amid the various displays found front and centre. 


Beckers Art Award was established in 1987 and has since then proven to have a remarkable ability to identify young talents on the brink of a breakthrough in their careers. The winner is awarded a grant, which from this year has been raised from 150,000 to 200,000 SEK, and a solo exhibition that has, since 2001, been arranged and held in collaboration with Färgfabriken.

Jury: Jenny Lindén Urnes, Mårten Castenfors och Magnus Jensner

Key partners