The woman who defied 300 neo-Nazis

A photo that has gone viral this week shows a single figure standing up against nationalists at a rally in Sweden. Kelly Grovier looks at how the image sums up resistance.

It's a heroic image: an indomitable woman taking to the city streets, offering herself as a symbol of courage, thrusting her right arm upwards into the air to lead the charge against the encroachment of ultraconservatism.

Anyone not logged into social media this week could be forgiven for thinking I'm describing one of most inspiring political paintings in the history of art: Liberty Leading the People (1830) by the French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix.

In fact, the iconic gesture appeared in real life last Sunday in a central Swedish city, and was captured in a photo that has gone viral the world over.

When Tess Asplund, a 42-year-old Afro-Swedish social activist, came face-to-face with a May Day march of 300 uniformed nationalists in Borlänge, she felt compelled to register her disgust with the group's anti-immigration attitudes.

Unaware her actions were locked in the lens of a spectator's camera, Asplund strode into the street and placed herself, like a human speed bump, in the parade's path.

With fist clenched and arm raised at an angle that recalls the Black Power salute, Asplund unwittingly found herself posing for a photo that would spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter in the ensuing days.

Though entirely unstaged, the viral image has all the aesthetic power of Delacroix's epoch-defining painting.

That shows the figure of Liberty jabbing the tricolor flag of the French Revolution into the gunpowder air and allegorically leading an impromptu army of civilians in protest against the authoritarian policies of King Charles X.

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