Hannah Ryggen Wove Politics Into Her Gorgeous Tapestries


Hannah Ryggen Wove Politics Into Her Gorgeous Tapestries.
OXFORD, England — On July 22, 2011, Hannah Ryggen’s tapestry “We Are Living on a Star” was hanging in the Cabinet Building in Oslo’s Regjeringskvartalet, or government quarter, when a car bomb exploded in the street outside. Eight people died in the blast, which damaged the offices of the prime minister, as well as the finance and oil ministries. Ms. Ryggen’s tapestry was torn and showered with splinters of glass and other flying debris.

“We Are Living on a Star” unites two enduring themes of Ms. Ryggen’s work: her broadly socialist, anti-fascist response to world events, and a profound love for her family and the living earth that sustained it. Commissioned in 1958 for the Cabinet Building by its architect, Erling Viksjo, Ms. Ryggen’s 13-foot-high, hand-woven work shows monumental male and female figures embracing before a blue ovoid form that represents the world, suspended amid planets in a night sky.

Since repaired, this scarred work, with its explicit message of global solidarity, has become an emblem of collective memory, lending its name to a 2014 exhibition at the Henie Onstad Arts Center, south of Oslo, in which artists responded to the events of that day in 2011.

According to Emma Ridgway, senior curator at Modern Art Oxford, “We Are Living on a Star” is now considered too culturally important to risk its traveling for exhibition abroad, but 15 sizable works by Ms. Ryggen, who died in 1970, are on display through Feb. 18 at the Oxford museum, in the first major examination of the artist’s work in Britain.