A male artist, in the most offensive caricature blackface imaginable, creates an anatomical nude female red velvet cake and invites Sweden’s Minister of Culture to give him/her a symbolic cliteridectomy by cutting the genital slice first. Oh, and Mr. Linde screams and moans. Then he eats the cake.
The internet was quick to react.
Sweden’s African-Swedish Association called it “a racist spectacle”.
Jezebel wrote, “I hope you spent the morning warming up your What The Everloving Hell reaction muscles, because this will require you to use all of them.”
Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth denies doing anything wrong, according to the Guardian, but admits that Mr. Linde’s artistic statement about female genital mutilation in Africa may have been confusing. “He claims that it challenges a romanticised and exoticised view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism,” she said. “Art needs to be provocative.”
And this installation for Sweden’s “Art Week” certainly is… provocative:
Once you get past the outrage, however, there are some interesting points to consider.
First of all Makode Linde is himself an “Afro-Swede”. And he is somewhat of a specialist in art that incorporates old-school caricatures of African people.
Says the Afro-Europe blog:
“Makode Linde is known for in his art, which is based on racism, xenophobia and slavery. The cake, which was part of his work, was to make a Western perception of Africa in contrast to the real picture of slavery and oppression. He also stresses that the main purpose of the cake was not to depict mutilation.”
I have a hard time buying that last bit, but one could say there is a certain artistic licence granted to a person making a statement about how others view part of his own heritage.
Animal NY’s art blogger Marina Galperina took a step back and tried to find some artistic merit in it:
“Is there anything redeeming about this piece? This cake cutting is a horrific spectacle — the red, the screams, the giggles — almost as if the Scandinavia’s apathy towards the issue of female circumcision is exaggerated through the aggressive trivialization and the cake-cutters are purposely made complicit in the violence. Also, it’s kitschy and absurd, but for obvious reasons, that’s not the first thing you think about either.
When Marina Abramović dismembered an oozing cake version of herself and Deborah Harry at the MoCA, some of the swanky gala guests chanted “Violence against women!” This is violence against women:
Female genital mutilation is the removal of part or all of the external female genitalia. In its most severe form, a woman or girl has all of her genitalia removed and then stitched together, leaving a small opening for intercourse and menstruation. It is practiced in 28 African countries on the pretext of cultural tradition or hygiene.
The degrading torture, extreme pain, lifelong consequences of this ordeal does not make it off-limits for artistic critique. Does “getting my vagaga mutilated” work? Had the response been different if Makode had a “vagaga” or if he was white? Is this the worst photo-op in the history of Swedish politics?”
The answer to at least one of Ms. Galperina’s questions is, thankfully, easy. The rest? Not so much.