[update: the last name of Caroline has been omitted]
It could have been awkward, but instead, Inga Maria’s stay at a summer house in þingvellir became a weekend of bonding and sharing, like-minded women connecting as artists and, more deeply, as friends. Inga was invited by a friend, but didn’t know the host or the other two women there. Everyone was agreeable—even the weather was cooperating, a miraculous occurrence in Iceland. The five women spent most of the weekend in and out of the hot pot on the deck. Inga Maria felt a connection with the host, Caroline. They seemed to fit together, in personality, in values, in aspirations—one of those rare moments where you find someone so similar to you that you can become close friends after a weekend. As soon as Inga Maria returned home that Sunday evening, she started researching Caroline on Facebook, Instagram, the usual avenues. That’s when Inga Maria discovered that her art, Inga Maria’s art, had been exhibited and sold as prints in Switzerland by Caroline—before either of them had ever met.
Inga Maria’s full name is Inga Maria Brynjarsdóttir. She’s a visual artist here in Iceland. The first thing you notice about her when you meet her are her eyes. She has this look about her like she wants to tell you the best story you’ve ever heard. She started telling me this story over a year ago. This story about stolen art, attempted reconciliation, fake Facebook accounts, hospitalization and, finally, her choice to move on.
Moving back and forth between Iceland and abroad, I never got a chance to sit down and write this story. Last winter I met Inga Maria in a tiki bar downtown called Bar Ananas. She had a dead rat in her purse, a piece of her new art project. We decided then and there, over mojitos and a rodent carcass, that this story was too interesting not to tell.
Googling Caroline / Confronting Caroline
“While I was looking Caroline up online, I bumped into a drawing of mine,” says Inga Maria, elbows on the table and leaning forward with enthusiasm. “At first I thought it was a Google mistake. You know when your search results get mixed together or whatever, but no. It wasn’t.” Inga Maria found a series of images by Caroline that had been exhibited in Switzerland in 2011. Inga Maria had originally exhibited her work in 2008. Caroline and Inga Maria did not meet until March 2015.
“It was basically my work,” laughs Inga Maria. “Except it wasn’t done in charcoal, like I did, it was done in pen and pencil with some grey tone smeared in. I found it hilarious at first.” It was surreal. The art Caroline had supposedly copied was from the first exhibition Inga Maria had ever done. The originals were in the homes of friends, family and her ex-boyfriend. Inga Maria confronted Caroline. It was awkward.
“She was selling prints of my drawings on her website. It was not good,” says Inga Maria. “I decided to confront my friend Harpa Einarsdóttir, the one who invited me to the summer house in the first place. Her and Caroline were living together here in Iceland. They had become really close, like soulmates. They had gotten matching tattoos.” Caroline had moved to Iceland and was trying to find ways of staying here. She was applying for artist residencies and looking for work. Her boyfriend was Icelandic.
Harpa confronted Caroline and showed Inga Maria the Facebook messages they had sent each other. At first, it looked like Caroline was going to apologize, but it quickly became clear Caroline wanted to say this was all a big coincidence. “Instead of just coming forward and saying ‘oh, I’m sorry’ or ‘I just found these images interesting and in my style so I copied them,’ she just claimed online that I had stolen them from her,” says Inga Maria.
With nothing else to do, Inga Maria made a post about the situation on Facebook. The comments section blew up. People for Caroline. People for Inga Maria. Caroline called Inga Maria “a witch” and claimed Inga Maria had stolen the art from her.
That’s when the emails started.
On Thursday, March 26, 2015
To: Caroline <info@****.com> (The website has been taken down)
Really? What the fuck are you doing?
You don’t know how I can look myself in the mirror?
Those drawings are mine and I know you know it.
Can you please stop posting bad things about Harpa and me on the internet. I have only talked great about you, but I dislike this stealing of yours. This was my first piece…
And what the fuck is this about making me out to be a witch, stealing your work?
What is wrong with you?
I hope you get your shit together. This is just crazy.
To: Inga Maria Brynjarsdóttir, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Never said you were a witch. oh no.
And i did just defend myself. You are making my life a living hell.
Ingimar and other friends showed me what you did post on fb. and no, it wasn’t kind at all and very offensive.
We could have arranged that, i thought it was ok after our first exchange. But you did put my name + pictures and call me a thief. And wtf ? they are MY drawings, ffs!!!!! and no need to contact my friends about it. They know the truth.
Old Hag Darby told me immediately. Having my dear Harpa and all icelandic folks on your side isn’t enough?
Destroying all my hopes and dream to move there isn’t enough? having me
deleted them for you isn’t enough? this is just going to far. stop it.
Keep those drawing, don’t mention me again nevermore. I am gonna send mine to you as i said before, even if you don’t want them, so you can do whatever you want with them. stop making a drama and ruining my life,please. I beg you
I did actually try my best to arrange everything on your behalf until today.
I wish i could have known you before. i wish you did not went so far.
I am so hurted
The next morning Caroline sent Inga Maria an email stating she was thinking about killing herself. Inga Maria decided to respond and sent her emails a few times with this being the final email:
To: Caroline, <info@****.com>
This is crazy, everything is dramatised to the extremes.
We share similar stories, but apparently we work through them in a different way
I smile through my troubles, you do not…
It’s fucked up that you would want to kill yourself because of this, why would you do that?
You claim that my drawings are yours… why would you kill yourself? it´s just stupid…
I have no bad feeling towards you, get yourself together, feel free to contact me in a good way
and stop feeling so bad about yourself.
I feel what you have been through, but it matters how you work it out.
I went through the same shit but i am not making people feel sorry for me because of it –
why should you do that? – I feel your pain, but I do not want to put that pain on other people….
and i dislike this shit we are making…
love to you…
Soon after the email exchange, Caroline took down her email and website. Nothing really got settled. Inga Maria talked to a few organizations in Iceland that help artists with copyright, but hiring a lawyer was too far out of her budget. Then she got a friend request on Facebook, from a person claiming to be Stephanie.
“At first I didn’t answer, you know? Because her last name was [Caroline’s last name],” says Inga Maria. “Her cover photo on her account said something like ‘Those who steal… lalala,’ basically directed right at me. Stephanie started messaging me and telling me that Caroline was in the hospital, that she was dying because of what I was doing to her. I was confused. I hadn’t done anything. I made a Facebook post and inquired to a few places about copyright. I didn’t even say anything bad about her.”
Confused, but still compassionate, Inga Maria asked Stephanie how she could help. What hospital was Caroline staying in and should Inga Maria contact Caroline’s friends in Seyðisfjörður? They should be there to support her.
“I offered to contact Caroline’s friends. I told Stephanie I have no grudge against Caroline and really hope she feels better,” says Inga Maria. “Stephanie just said, ‘No! Don’t contact anyone! She needs her peace and quiet. She’s dying.’
“I saw some holes in this story, so I asked Stephanie what hospital Caroline was in, but she wouldn’t tell me. She was afraid I would hack into the computers at the hospital. Apparently, according to Stephanie, all of Caroline’s computers had been hacked. I told Stephanie if Caroline was at a hospital that information was public and I could just look it up. Stephanie told me Caroline was in a private psychiatric hospital, closed to the public, and she was dying.”
The End? Reconciliation And Moving On
Things died down for a couple weeks. Inga Maria received an email from one of Caroline’s friends, someone who had bought one of Caroline’s prints, and asked Inga Maria who the authentic artist was.
“I told her the truth. It’s my work,” says Inga Maria. “This friend of Caroline’s had bought a piece at an exhibition and wanted to know the truth, so I told her. Apparently, Caroline had told her I had already apologized for falsely claiming that she stole from me.”
Inga Maria doesn’t hold a grudge against Caroline—even though nothing has been settled between them. During the entire interview, Inga Maria kept reminding me she didn’t want Caroline to be insulted or ridiculed. “I don’t want to hurt her,” says Inga Maria for the countless time. “I just wish we could have gotten past it and worked on something together.
“In art school, they taught us we could grab inspiration from anywhere, from anyone. You just had to make it your own. You don’t copy something and then print it and sell it to make money. When I sell a piece or a select number of prints, that’s it. I don’t keep reprinting. That’s disrespecting the buyer. I mean, sure, I could get desperate and want to do this, but people can buy my stuff online off someone else already,” says Inga Maria with a laugh that signals the end of the story.
We’re out of beer anyway.
Check out Inga Maria’s MySpace page from 2008. Yeah, MySpace.