Sweden’s art scene shows its alternative side in Malmö

From major galleries to small independent artist-run spaces, Malmö’s art scene is as diverse as the city itself.

Sweden’s art scene shows its alternative side in Malmö
Photo: Malmö-based artist and curator Mary Toreld

Cheap and chilled, qualities popular with creative types, artists have long flocked to Malmö for its affordable studio space but stayed to be part of the tight-knit community.

“In the past few years, lots of creative people have been moving here,” says artist Carl Lindh, who runs Signal, a non-profit centre for contemporary art in Malmö. “Fine artists but also musicians and other people involved with the art and culture scenes. It’s made it a very interesting time.”

Carl, who hails from Hässleholm some 100km north of Malmö, first moved to the city in 1999 to study at its prestigious Art Academy. After stints in Edinburgh and Leeds in the UK, he found himself drawn back to Malmö where he has lived since 2008.

Start planning your tour of Malmö’s art scene

Photo: Artist and curator Carl Lindh. Credit: Kota Sake

“Malmö is the only city in Sweden where I can see myself living and working as an artist. I still feel it is the most interesting city in Sweden. The population is very diverse and there's more of a DIY attitude among artists. They think 'Let's do something instead of waiting for something to happen'”, says Carl.

The influx of artists from all disciplines has morphed Malmö into a creative melting pot, adding another layer to its long-established institutional scene.

“There’s Malmö Konsthall, the Konstmuseum and Moderna Museet i Malmö, so three big institutions in a small city which adds to the general climate,” describes Carl. “There are also very good collective workshops or places where you can work with very specific techniques and equipment, for example, KKV Monumental, Mediaverkstaden and Inter Art Center.”

Photo: Miriam Preis/

He adds that the prevalence of creatives in the city has led to the birth of many small artist-run spaces and independent galleries, such as KRETS, an art gallery and project space, Skånes Konstförening, an arts complex in an old mill, and Alta Art Space, a non-commercial artist-run exhibition space, cultural platform and studio collective.

Another of those spaces is Signal which was formed by a group of five artists in 1998. Today it is run by Carl, Elena Tzotzi and Joel Odebrant.

“The founders wanted to create a space where they could work with and present artists they found interesting. The people running Signal have changed organically but the whole thing is that we want it to be a place where artists can push their practice a little bit further.”

Installation view from Signal's current exhibition Love comes first. Photographer Lotten Pålsson

The exhibitions are often accompanied by a programme of complementing events including film screenings, discussions and other connecting activities. For example, ‘Digital Distress – Consumed by Infinity’, an exhibition which ended in March, was supported by a series of lectures related to the topic of digitalisation.

“We try to do as much as we can to create an interesting scene in Malmö,” says Carl. “The whole idea is that we want a place where we can collaborate and support artists to develop their work in a different way.”

‘Prepare to be surprised’

Like Carl, Mary Toreld is a Malmö-based artist wise to the advantages of collaboration. She is also aware that the life of an artist isn’t always exhibitions and opening nights.

Photo: Mary Toreld

“It’s a tough business and everyone is trying to survive. I felt I had to either quit the business or try to improve the work situation and conditions for artists. I went with the latter option,” she tells The Local.

Mary knew that in order to do this she’d need a base where she could bring artists together. In 2014, she found an old industry building, which she admits was out of her budget at the time, but decided to take a leap of faith.

“I took it anyway and decided to start a place where I could develop exhibition concepts to work on how we communicate art.”

That place became FRANK Gallery & Studios, a creative space with a gallery for exhibitions and workspaces for 20 professional artists from different disciplines.

Start planning your tour of Malmö’s art scene

“FRANK is very experimental, that’s our profile. We support all kinds of artists, they don’t need to be artists in the traditional sense. For example, we have a potter and a tattoo artist here at the moment.”

Photo: FRANK Gallery

Mary explains that while the tenants aren’t required to collaborate, they do from time to time and the result is often a unique combination of two seemingly disparate disciplines. For example, she recalls one set of tenants who work with sound collaborating with a fellow tenant who is a textile designer to create soundtracks to her patterns.

“It’s a good mix. Malmö is the perfect place for trying things out and letting them grow a little bit. You get the chance to see if it works or not,” says Mary.

As for the gallery itself, Mary says it’s equally as avant-garde.

“Prepare to be surprised! It’s a bit weird — you have to go through a garage entrance then five metres in front of you is a glass door. The gallery has a very high ceiling and whatever happens inside is experimental. It might not be obvious why but it’s always something new.”

She recalls an exhibition in FRANK’s opening year in which she sterilised the entire gallery, asked visitors to wash their hands, and then allowed them to touch all the art.

Photo: FRANK Gallery

“I was talking to people to figure out if this was bringing them closer to feeling something. Art is about feelings,” she says.

Although originally from north of Gothenburg, Mary feels like she’s found her place in Malmö. She’s free to fulfill her ambition with FRANK and is surrounded by other like-minded creatives keen to experiment and find new techniques.

“Malmö is the first place that’s ever felt like home to me. It doesn’t matter who you are here and you can be whoever you want.”

Find out more about what's on at FRANK on its Facebook page.

This article was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Malmö stad.

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‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT


Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden