Behind the scenes footage by Jonas Wessman and Julia Bergstrom for 2FACED1.com.
As the founder of the 2Faced1 collective and singer Robyn’s collaborative partner, Maria “Decida” Wahlberg – stylist, art director, choreographer, et cetera – is one of Sweden’s leading pop-culture activists. Decida’s message is straightforward and simple: every individual has many facets , nothing is just black or white.
This story was originally published in Rodeo Magazine’s fall 2012 edition.
Words by Nathan Hamelberg
You could write a master’s thesis in cultural studies about Maria “Decida” Wahlberg. Through her collaboration with Robyn,she’s helped Swedish feminist pop become increasingly danceable, stylish and confrontational. Her resume includes everything from freestyle dancer to art director – and as a stylist for Swedish hip hop magazine Kingsize (among others), she’s campaigned for women to be depicted as subjects – not objects – in images.
It was love at first sight when Decida’s 2Faced1 project – a website, but also a community of Swedish pop-culture people and activists – caught my attention, a feeling that was repeated when Patrik Bolling Ferrel and Angelica Tibblin Chen introduced me to the term “betweenship”.
“Betweenship” has put a finger on the duality of feeling both at home and like a stranger in cultural situations and environments. Trivial things like the colour of our skin or our surnames have automatically pigeon-holed us everyday . That is why we initially thought primarily in terms of ethnicity – having experienced growing up in Sweden and being defined as immigrants, despite tbeing born here to at least one Swedish parent.
When we formed an organisation with that particular name – The Betweenship [Mellanförskapet – tr.] – at the end of the 00sour aim was to address the problem that identity, segregation and racism in Sweden are discussed using an outdated model. Over time, our interpretation of betweenship broadened. In today’s society, it could also address the feeling of being alienated from your own body.
The deeper we dug into these issues, the clearer it became that the Swedish idea of citizenship rests on extremely essentialist notions of culture and virtue.
At the same time, Sweden’s view on citizenship has been pivotal to the Swedish anti-racist movement.
The greatest inspiration for questioning that categorical way of looking at “betweenie” ['mellano' – tr.] or “2Faced1” identities (if not synonymous, I see the the two concepts as at least cousins ) has come from the street rather than academia. That there are forerunners in the noble art of keeping all aspects of their identity alive, to hold on to everything and forgo nothing.Neneh Cherry has been a role model for both 2Faced1 and The Betweenship, both as a person and for the work she’s created with others. As an artist, she was a part of the Buffalo Collective in a vibrant London on the cusp between the 80s and 90s. At the same time, she was an extremely empowering individual.
More on that later.
Betweenship is a word that says more than a thousand pictures. 2Faced1 illustrates the term, depicting incongruous people who don’t fit the traditional “Swedish” identity. Betweenship is a condition: 2Faced1 is what you do with it.
If I should try to briefly explain 2Faced1, I’d call it an online home for people outside the norm, where they can be seen and heard without being interrupted. But Decida describes it better.
I catch up with her and intern Alex Dabo right after the Rodeo shoot – a staged paraphrase of the classical family portrait from Ingemar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.
“I wanted to paraphrase the photography in Fanny and Alexander because it’s so iiconically Swedish – blondes and Bergman – that’s not the way things are today,” says Decida.
So how would you describe a “2Faced1”?
Maria “Decida” Wahlberg: Being a 2Faced1 is threefold. It’s a state of mind, with the website being a showcase for that mindset and people looking for transnational identities. It’s also a loosely knitted community of two-faced-ones. The project is about making it clear that it’s an amazing talent to be able to see yourself from several perspectives. Being able to see structures, your own challenges and privileges, and understanding that you can be superior and subordinate in different contexts at the same time. It’s about refraining from building an identity based purely on the sexuality, ethnicity, nationality or class you were born into.
Do you define yourselves as a political group?
MDW: When you adopt popular culture as “your culture”, you have to address issues that politicians – or academics, for that matter – wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. “For” or “against” just doesn’t work.
Is it possible to be critical of capitalism if you consume popular culture? Isn’t there something anti-capitalistic in being a stereotype-phobe that can’t primarily be typecasted as a “customer”? That’s what I believe. Stereotypes are built on conservatism. What I’m getting at is that “gatekeeper” mentality – a fear of losing your uniqueness.
MDW: Yes, and that makes me think about the time I met Carl Johan de Geer and asked him about the internet, and whether he’d have been interested in meeting like-minded people from other countries in the 60s and 70s if internet had existed back then. He answered, “Someone that’s doing the same stuff as me is surely the last person I’d want to meet.” He’d obviously missed what’s so wonderful about the internet. Creating and exploring collectively. Artists have to let go of their egos! Along with the gatekeeper mentality comes a fear of sharing. The future, or rather the present, lies in working together.
You care a whole lot about internet freedom , about anti-racism and feminism. How was your political interest awakened?
MDW: I’ve been a feminist since I could put two and two together. Without being aware of it as a concept, of course. When I grew up in the hip hop culture of the early 90s,reading Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X was an inherent part of it. Being “real” meant that you were familiar with The Five Percent Nation. Hip hop opened my eyes to how power structures work, and I started to see similar structures – even in hip hop.
To this day, I’m surprised by how guys who aren’t the norm in Swedish society still don’t understand that they are the norm in their subculture, in hip hop. They act as though things are stacked against them there too. The same goes for certain middle class girls at the Stockholm School of Economics. You’ve got to make an effort to see things from more than one perspective in order not to stagnate.
My view of the world was shaped tremendously by hip hop too. Unfortunately, I sometimes feel that hip hop is the last remaining freezone for locker-room sexism – but, at the same time, some of the greatest contemporary feminist icons come from the hip hop culture. Can you name some obvious historical 2Faced1 people?
MDW: Both Robyn and I keep coming back to Neneh Cherry. So fucking ahead of her time. It’s a bit like we’re indebted to all the 2Faced1’s who’ve made it easier for us to express ourselves today.
I have a hang up about Neneh Cherry. Don Cherry was glued to my mum at the Gyllene Cirkeln club in Stockholm the same night that he later hooked up with Neneh’s mum, Moki. Luckily, things turned out like they did, otherwise we wouldn’t be here.
Alex Dabo: When I first heard about Neneh Cherry I thought, “huh, there was someone like M.I.A. in Sweden – a long damn time ago?” And when I talked to my dad about her, he started singing all her songs “no money man, can win my love…”
The business of always having to go further as an individual and never stagnating. It’s easy to say and harder to do. Does complacency kill radicalism?
MDW: Of course. Artists shouldn’t be complacent. It’s probably a generational issue. In a way it’s easier to be open now. The internet means so much for how we experience, share and produce culture.
As you said, the way we share culture is so very different now, it doesn’t need to experienced in the same time and space anymore. Does the “gatekeeper” mentality we discussed stem from a fear of watering down the intensity of cultural experiences?
MDW: It often comes down to the artist’s ego. You have to realise that the future is about collaboration and not about safeguarding your unique aura. Myself, I’m interested in doing things that more people can share and I’m less interested in boundaries like nation-states. For me, the most interesting elements of the Makode Linde cake event were how the whole thing went viral, the questions it raised about who has the right to what symbolism, and how transnational culture is formed on the internet.
Speaking of multi-faceted art, while assembling Ikea furniture a friend of mine always quips, “When all else fails read the instructions”. Can we require artists to explain their art?
AD: It goes without saying that the person who created the art in order for us to think for ourselves can hardly pen what we should be thinking about the art!
True. But how we view art is largely dependent on identity. A mantra in The Betweenship is to refuse to let identity become a zero-sum game. That you should never be forced to compromise on fundamental parts of yourself to be seen.
MDW: The restrictions of identity politics and the strength of intersectionality is that you shouldn’t be reduced to a stereotype. 2Faced1 is intersectionality in practice!
By the way, the idea behind the picture, the Fanny and Alexander paraphrase, is wrong in a sense. Today’s “Swedishness” can’t be captured in one image – while Sweden has many more kinds of faces than before, we’re also increasingly scattered all over the globe.
But I think a lot of people haven’t understood that there’s a large generation that was brought to Sweden by their parents, who’ve then moved on to the US, UK and so on because they couldn’t rely on a future in Sweden.
Are creative professionals leaving Sweden because of lack of a platform?
MDW: I think that an incredible amount of talented people leave Sweden because it’s too small. Not in terms of size or demographics, but mentally. Many choose not to live in a country where they feel they don’t fit in.
An American betweenie, Carmen, ran the New Demographic blog before. I remember how she hated that she was declared an idiot by being a non-white woman during the Democratic presidential candidate election. As a “woman” it was assumed that she supported Hilary Clinton, being “of colour” meant she should support Obama – rather than taking a stand on their policies. In its simplest form, politics of identity can be rather belittling .
AD: I’ve seen that before. There are expectations for which “side” you should choose. Old friends see you as a traitor for moving to another area. I used to live in Jakobsberg and just moved to Liljeholmen. Some now think that I’ll only hang out with folks in town…
MDW: The “traitor culture” is part of a self-regulating system. That there even exists a split between two poles means that the side with money and power win in the long run. It works for them that those on their way up in the hierarchy become outcasts “at home”, because it means that fewer will cope climbing. That’s why being a project romantic can be problematic. The dichotomy of “us and them” becomes a kind of lock.
AD: Singer Zhala Rifat calls them “Jante Law immigrants”. They hate people with aspirations, out of the fear they’ll get left behind.
Style is linked to aspirations and hope. And the person you want be perceived as perhaps says the most about who you are. Where does a stylist fit into all this? For me the whole stylist role, finding an expression and style, is a little like being a director. The asshole who plagues actors with the line that they “have it in them and just have to dare to express it”.
MDW: Exactly! But it’s often dismissed as superficial. We use the term “stylosophe” to describe people who really express who they are through their style. Where it comes together. I go ballistic when artists have an edgy style that doesn’t fit their music .
I have a hard time accepting assumptions about what’s profound and what’s superficial. They’re not particularly useful as opposites. Like Zhala Rifat, who you mentioned Alex. It’s so obvious that a Kurdish-Swedish woman who’s arty, from the project suburbs and queer will stand out as disconnected from a norm perspective – while a middle aged Swedish man can juggle the same number of identities without being called contradictory. Instead, he’d be called multi-faceted.
MDW: Yes, it’s a bit like in the academic world where there’s thinly veiled contempt for, or fear of, any knowledge that you yourself don’t possess. Above all, the habit of deliberately misunderstanding those who don’t use correct language drives me crazy.
An important thing that Alex and I have discussed is if a white middle-class man can be a 2Faced1? And the answer is yes, of course, as long as he understands his privileges and can look beyond himself.
This autumn Decida and 2Faced1 are filming a music video in London. www.2faced1.com