Last week I was in Stockholm for work and had some free time to walk around the city. I’ve been before, and if you asked me to describe the place in one word it would be “civilised”.
Stockholm isn’t particularly exciting or impressive. It’s a very pleasant European city with things to do and places to see, but you get lots of them in Europe. What makes Stockholm unique, though, is the atmosphere of comfort, unpretentiousness and sufficiency – or simply, hygge. The concept of hygge is Danish, but its vibe is everywhere in Sweden – in the friendly Swedes, in their beautiful homes (seriously, if you look into windows, it seems like everyone is an interior designer!), in their simple but filling and tasty food.
In a way, Sweden is “selfish”: they don’t seem to want to rule the world, they just want to be happy where they are. And this self-centric approach to making life better for all citizens here and now is what makes the country such an interesting place to visit.
So I was being a happy tourist walking around the central island of Gamla Stan and taking pictures when something caught my eye. It was this small monument on a street corner.
If you look closely, it’s a fox with a cub. And even though it’s a sculpture and even though it’s a fox, there’s something so freaky human about it that your heart sinks when you look at it.
The monument is called Rag and Bone, and Atlas Obscura describes it best.
Huddled at the foot of a Stockholm bridge is a sad little figure, barely visible under a pile of rumpled up blankets, silently pleading for your sympathy. This statue, called “Rag and Bone,” is somehow even sadder for having a fox face.
Since 2008 the helpless little fox has been waiting on the street, asking passersby to give spare a thought for the homeless, and maybe some change as well. The artwork was created by British sculptor Laura Ford, and later purchased by the city of Stockholm. At first glance, the squat beastly hobo looks like an almost realistic pile of old blankets, but further inspection reveals the sad little fox face. The figure has nothing in the world but a single boot and its pile of ratty blankets.
The statue was placed near the corner of Drottninggatan and Strömgatan, in the heart of the city where the tourists and the most wealthy can see it. Its placement was the result of a public vote that wanted the little symbol of poverty to stand out to those who are in the most need of being reminded.
Well liked by both Swedes and tourists, the rag and bone fox is often surrounded by pocket change that is left at its feet. It may not be the happiest statue in the world, but even though it might make you give some time to an uncomfortable subject, it remains undeniably a little cute.
And indeed, if you look around, you’ll see people not noticing this little creature. They take photos and selfies and walk on by, and only a few stop by the little fox.
I had to fight tears when I realised just how accurate the monument was when I saw numerous people pass it by. Because that’s what most of us do when it comes to small and poor people – we don’t notice or pretend to not notice. Because it’s mentally easier to disappear into our warm homes than think about those who don’t have anywhere to go. Because noticing them would mean crossing that uncomfortable bridge and reaching out to those in need.
Unsurprisingly, the picture of Rag and Bone was also the least liked post on my Instagram from the trip. Maybe because it required 30 seconds of reading the caption, and that’s too much to ask of social media users. Maybe because people were awkward to acknowledge it. Maybe the picture wasn’t good, but then again I’m not a professional Instagrammer for other posts to be much better. I don’t know. But it was a sad reminder once again that most people would rather stay in their happy bubble where nothing is ever bad.
So to see a sculpture like Rag and Bone in the centre of one of the wealthiest capitals in Europe was a revelation, and I can only applaud the Swedes for embracing the awkward topic of other people’s sorrows and inspiring some actions to help. If Rag and Bone make even some people stop and ponder, if those people then help the people in need – then we need more of these sculptures around the world. To remind ourselves how lucky we are to have comfortable lives and to be human to help those who don’t.
Let’s be kind and caring to each other.