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Ingamaj Beck


Author, art critic, translator

Ingamaj Beck was an author, art critic and translator. She introduced Italian poetry to Sweden.

Ingamaj Beck was born in 1943 in Upernavik on Greenland. Her family was living there during the second world war. Her mother, Ruth, was Swedish and her father, Axel Guldberg Beck, was a Danish physician and author. After the end of the war, the family moved back to Copenhagen where Ingamaj Beck grew up and was educated.

In 1961, Ingamaj Beck began studying at the art history department at Copenhagen University and took her M.A. Degree there in 1970. With the help of research scholarships, she started writing her doctoral thesis in Danish: a monography on the Romanesque twelfth-century cathedral in Cefalù, Sicily. Ingamaj Beck wrote the section from an art history perspective and the architect Thomas Thieme wrote the section on the architectural history. The doctoral thesis was presented in 1973 at the Chalmers Technical College in Gothenburg.

Ingamaj Beck had previously published a study of the oldest mosaics in the Capella Palantina in Palermo, in Italian. The background was that she had periodically spent time in Italy in the 1960s. She belonged to the continental left, kept herself up-to-date on the latest discussions, read a good deal, especially Italian authors, and travelled around in the rest of Europe. She made friends with several Italian cultural personalities, among others the author and translator Claudio Magris, the painter and illustrator Tullio Pericoli and the author Dario Fo, who in 1997 won the Nobel Prize for literature.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Ingamaj Beck moved back to Sweden, and after being awarded her doctorate, she began writing for the culture section of the major evening tabloid Aftonbladet in Stockholm. This she did for the rest of her life. She enjoyed writing brief, initiated reviews in the form of a sketch growing out of a reflection. For a short period, she was also an art critic on the major daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter. She also worked as an art teacher for the deaf. At the end of the decade, she started work as an editor on the cultural magazine Ord & Bild, to which she introduced the concept ”weak thought”, from Gianni Vattimo’s philosophy. The implication was that the pretension to objective and rational truth was cast aside and Ingamaj Beck represented instead the broader and more open outlook that art could contribute.

Ingamaj Beck made her debut as a translator in 1976 with the poetry series Tuppen på berget, a selection of Cesare Pavese’s poems that had not previously been translated to Swedish. During the 1980s and 1990s, she continued to introduce and translate Italian poets like Patrizia Valduga, Antonio Tabucchi and Alda Merini in Trio i pastoralt landskap. Angelo Scandurra’s suite Anteckningar kring kungens död och andra dikter came out in a bilingual edition and later she presented a further three poets, Alberto Bevilacqua, Dante Maffia, and Maria Luisa Spaziani. The collection was entitled Romersk trio and was finally followed by the Calabrian poet Corrado Calabrò’s Älskaren och havet. For this, Ingamaj Beck was awarded the Samfundet De Nios prize.

Concurrently with her translation work, she spent her time on her own authorship and her first prose book Inför gryningen was published in 1979. It was well received and during the following years, other short fictional novels appeared, sometimes constructed like collages. She also wrote children’s books that were illustrated by Bengt Arne Runnerström. Mamma Grön and Pappa Blåst are two examples. In the novel Som moln from 1989, she let it be understood that she had a tragic family background. Two years later appeared Pas de deux with its detective intrigue from renaissance Italy. It was later published in Italian. It was about Jacopo Carducci, known as da Pontormo, one of the earliest and most influential of the Italian Mannerists.

Ingamaj Beck was also heard on the radio, conversing with Alberto Moravia, and she translated Umberto Eco’s Diario Minimo, the film-maker and author Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Witness och Skrifter i fel tid. She also translated works by Danish authors into Swedish. Mogens Hoff’s Vem älskade Eurydike? and Tove Nielsen’s Kvinna, du är offret are two examples. With Peder Alton, she edited Natur och Kulturs konstnärslexikon, published in 1991, and in cooperation with Claus Lynge edited Det andra rummet: en nordisk antologi om scenografisk konst in 1998. Prior to that she had written Kring bilden i det samhälleliga rummet and Vingspeglar in which she interviewed ten women artists, among them Marianne Lindberg De Geer, Marie-Louise Ekman and Lena Cronqvist. From the 1990s onwards, Ingamaj Beck was also a lecturer in art theory and the history of ideas at the art academy Kungliga konsthögskolan in Stockholm, an appointment she held until her death.

When the Norrlandsoperan was to produce Il prigioniero by Luigi Dallapiccola in 1997, Ingamaj Beck translated the work into Swedish. The same year, Figurer i ett landskap, sångcykel för radiomediet with her text and music by Carl Unander-Scharin was broadcast on the radio. She also lent her voice to ”La poetessa” in the same production.

Ingamaj Beck was struck by illness during the final years of her life. She is described by friends as mysterious, frangible and sensitive, but nevertheless strong and alert though at the same time preoccupied. Despite illness, she managed to write her final novel, Qivittoq, that was published in 1999 and received brilliant reviews. It is a poetical and dark story about a young girl’s growing up on Greenland and in Denmark. It is partly autobiographical, with parents who are unable to live together and a brother who dies with only his sister at his side.

Ingamaj Beck died in 2001 at Ersta hospice where for a long time she had been receiving care. She was 58 years old. Her final resting place is in the Northern Cemetery in Solna. The year after her death, Moderna Dansteatern in Stockholm produced her Qivittoq as a dance performance with Åsa Unander-Scharin and music by Carl Unander-Scharin.

Ulla Åshede
(Translated by Margaret Myers)

Published 2020-12-16

You are welcome to cite this article but always provide the author’s name as follows:

Ingamaj Beck,, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Ulla Åshede), retrieved 2024-04-13.

Other Names

    Maiden name: Guldberg Beck

Family Relationships

Civil Status: Divorced
  • Mother: Ruth Judith Marie Guldberg Beck, född Ericson
  • Father: Axel Guldberg Beck
  • Brother: Anders Beck
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  • Universitet, Köpenhamn, Danmark: Fil.mag.examen, konsthistoria, Københavns Universitet
  • Universitet, Köpenhamn, Danmark: Forskarstipendier, Københavns Universitet
  • Högskola, Göteborg: Fil.dr.examen, Chalmers tekniska högskola


  • Profession: Konstkritiker, Aftonbladet, även Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet
  • Profession: Redaktör för LL-böcker vid Skolöverstyrelsen
  • Profession: Översättare
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  • Colleague: Håkan Jeansson
  • Friend: Lars Linder
  • Friend: Claudio Magris
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  • Birthplace: Upernavik, Grönland
  • Upernavik, Grönland
  • Köpenhamn, Danmark
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Further References