Bringing Sweden to mind
Three years into her term, Consul General of Sweden Ulrika Sundberg gets ready to host a cultural exchange in Mumbai on June 4 and 5, when creative minds from the two countries will get a chance to meet and interact
We are seated in the air-conditioned conference room at the Consul General of Sweden in Mumbai office in BKC. Just as we peer through the glass window, wondering at the blazing summer, Ulrika Sundberg walks in. The normally vivacious Consul General, today, looks worn out. She blames the weather. "Mumbai is a big city offering a lot of challenges for its occupants," she says, laughing, giving us a preview of the effervescence that one usually spots at consulate events. "But it is quite similar to New York, considering the number of people that comes here to realise their dreams."
What also binds the two cosmopolitan cities is a pet project that Sundberg has been working on. A project that brings the creative industries from Sweden under one roof. Swedish Style Mumbai re-invents the spirit of much publicised predecessors such as Living in Sweden (Milan 1998), Swedish Style in Tokyo (Tokyo, repeated events, 1999–2016) and Stockholm New York (New York 2000). In fact, it was under Sundberg's supervision that the New York edition rose to fame. "In New York, we held the event in connection with the opening up of H&M on the Fifth Avenue. Now that IKEA is opening up in Navi Mumbai, it seemed the best time to offer a curated experience for networking and discussions on creativity," says Sundberg of the event that has been in the planning for five months now.
Among the big names from the Swedish fashion, design, architecture, photography, fine arts, film, technology, gastronomy and music industries, who will make it to Mumbai on June 4 and 5 at Mahalakshmi's Famous Studios are Michelin Star chef Marco Baudone, contemporary artistes Mamma Andersson, Idun Baltzersen, Anna Camner and Rolf Hansson and stylist and designer Selam Fessahaye. Among the Indians to watch for at the event are award-winning architect Bijoy Jain (who will deliver a talk on sustainable architecture) and fashion curator Gautam Vazirani (who will discuss smart textiles). "To really want to get to know India, you probably have to live here a lifetime. While that is not an option for me and others like me, what I can do instead is provide a platform for Swedish designers, architects, entrepreneurs, artists, chefs and companies to synergise with their Indian counterparts."
Among the brands that will make it from Stockholm to Mumbai is Ride Cake, which Sundberg says symbolises the young generation's environment consciousness. Ride Cake is a zero-emission motorcycle that is capable of high-performance off-roading. Speaking of her own children, she says, "My own kids won't buy new brands or new clothes unless they know the environment footprint of it or how it is produced," she says, not forgetting to mention 16-year-old Greta Thunberg whose speech on climate change to EU leaders has moved everyone. "Thunberg symbolises this new generation, and has decided to take politicians to task. She feels there is not enough being done to safeguard the environment for her and her grandchildren. She also wants everybody to panic as if the house was on fire. I think we all are subscribing to her concern. But we cannot do this alone."
The platform, she hopes, will also strengthen the economic partnership between the two countries. Sweden has had a presence in India for over a century, says Sundberg, adding, "There are many Sweden companies in India. Back home, there has been a big change in terms of economy where the creative industries are booming. India, on the other hand, needs jobs so this feels like a win-win situation." Another reason for hosting the exhibition here is to bring India to the attention of the Swedes. "India is very much focussed on the US and the Europe, and maybe China. So it was necessary to shift its focus to Sweden."
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While Swedish design and creativity are driven by equality, offering products for all and not just the affluent, Sundberg feels there is a lot to learn from the Indian companies. "India is also very strong in terms of spirituality. We have unfortunately left that behind. India brings to us what we don't necessarily think of, which is colours. So I am looking forward to Swedish companies embracing colours like orange, yellow and pink and do away with their minimalist style of grey, black, beige and brown," Sundberg chuckles.
The road to Mumbai also extends to Pune, where plans are afoot to build a smart street, called Swedish Avenue. Two architecture students from Pune have already been picked and assigned the job. Street lights will be powered by solar panels, benches will be made of recycled material and e-bikes will be preferred over four-wheelers. Three years into her term as the Consul General, Swedish Style Mumbai might be the legacy that Sundberg leaves behind. "When I look back at this enriching experience of continuous learning, I feel glad I came to India," she says. Her own personal journey — which meant battling Mumbai's terrible traffic — involved heading out on the weekends for trips around the city to explore local history and culture. "I love photography, so I take my camera and go about taking pictures in my free time."
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