The Art of Racism

I'm not sure which I find more appalling? That female genital mutilation was reduced to a gimmicky cake cutting stunt by the artist Makode Aj Linde (a black male artist!), or that Sweden's cultural minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, didn't hear about the installation beforehand and have red flags go off in her head? In fact, the cultural minister, a presumably educated, worldly person actually participated in cutting the cake a-la-Venus Hottentot with laughter.

Sadly, yet again, the black female body is an easy target, a symbol to be mocked and trivialized. That a subject as horrific as female genital mutilation on an African woman can be laughed at in a room of Europeans makes me feel like so little in the world has changed.

Currents readers, I open it up to you. Does art have a responsibility?

This incident made me think about Andreas Serrano's- Piss Christ installation-a small crucifix in a jar of urine and I came to the conclusion that it's not the same. A philisophical attack on religion is a different statement that may offend, but we have the right to express our beliefs. Art that mocks a real practice, which injures and kills millions of young women makes me believe that a great disservice has been done, to the women who were victims of this practice and to the people who will not be moved to act against this barbarous custom because it can be so easily trivialized. IF the point of the artist is to mock European inaction in Africa, or something along those lines, then the point was clearly lost.

I do not believe in censorship but the cultural minister, as a woman and a person who is supposed to support the enrichment of humanity through the arts, should be ashamed of her behavior. Her job demanded that she not take the knife, that she not slice the chocolate woman and say, "Wait, this is wrong." Or "What is he trying to tell us?"

The reality is, the "cultural minister" just didn't see anything wrong with it. That, for me, is the saddest part of the story, for all of us.


Nadève said...

I feel like I need more info. Why are people doing this? Because it all just looks and sounds crazy. I really do not understand this at all.

alexandra.petrovna-kim said...

more information: http://africasacountry.com/2012/04/18/swedish-cake/

Daniel said...

I'm actually not sure what to think of this at all. Especially after reading the article referenced above.
What does a politician and a crowd do, when you bring them in a situation like that, without any preparation?
Of cause they are laughing, but are they really enjoying them selves?
In the video the situation looks very bizarre and the laughter sounds more disturbed.
Politicians often as confident in unexpected situations as you would expect them to be, because their professional reactions just don't work. She just might be doing, what she usually does: Smile for the cameras and go ahead with whatever she is expected to do.

Now, depending on what aspect you look, the whole scene either is racist or misognistic or both.
But it really seems like that was the scene, the artist wanted to construct in the first place.

Of course you'd want someone to stand up and say, "What kind of crap is this?". But how many people really do that when they are surprised in front of cameras?
And it's also an event about provocative art, so they know they are expected to "like" stuff they find strange, distasteful or whatever.

currentsbetweenshores.blogspot.com said...

Hmm, I hear you Daniel. I have talked a lot about this to friends and what I can come up with is that:

1. the artist "succeeded" in making this a provocative piece of art. look how we're all talking about it and scratching our heads!

2. the artist set them up and they either didn't get it or they felt that they had to play along but i'm guessing it's the former (i think they probably still don't get it if since the minister is saying people should stop blaming her and blame the artist)

3. mutilation of the black female body (and yes, i guess this post could also be called the art of misogyny) will never be a taboo topic the way, say, the holocaust is. can u imagine an interactive gas shower? it just wouldn't be done. . .but the black female body is fair game apparently

I also have to say that, so far, I have only discussed this installation with male friends and I doubt they could relate to the visceral pain I experienced watching this video? The idea of cutting the female genitalia, slicing through it, the horrible laughter from the head of the cake, it's almost unbearable. My friends could much better view the use of the medium as "brilliant" but I could only think of the metaphor as reductive, mocking and painful.

I also wonder how much time beforehand the cultural minister knew about the cake? Would it have been a controversy had she not cut it? It was her "job" to cut it and so she was "forced" to play an ugly role. But did she have to? Couldn't she have said, "Wait, something about this is not right". . .

My thoughts are still reeling. ..

Daniel said...

1. Well somehow he did. But we're not really talking about mutilated women, but about this event. I'm doubting he's helping any good cause with that.

2. Well, I guess it's both. From the referenced article it seems the minister didn't know in advanced what kind of cake she would have to cut. If they told her that in advance she would at least have had some advisor telling her, it might be a bad idea...
And apparently she recently got some bad press for being ignorant towards modern/controversial arts? So maybe she tried to avoid being seen like that again...

3. Not in Germany no, maybe not in the Western World. But I can imagine someone having that idea. I also could imagine mutilation of the female body becoming a similar taboo in societies where its actually happening today. If there will be some kind of female movement.
I actually don't perceive that as a racial but a gender topic though. This practice occurs in Asia as well as in Arabic countries, and has its roots in those cultures. A race issue might be our ignorance of that.

I certainly did feel uncomfortable watching that. Probably I would have felt even more so, if it was a guy getting castrated. But I think I can relate well enough. I perceived the "head" as screaming though, not laughing.

Rochelle said...

Fascinating discussion. I do take your points about politicians, their savvy media training and hungriness for favourable media coverage that leaves them so open to being made fools of.

You should also look to MsAfropolitan's brief but insightful comments on the same peice at Msafropolitan.com

I have to say though, there is no need to attempt to separate gender from race, and quibble over which this was, racism or sexism. We as women of colour are subject to and objectified by racist misogyny and to try to divide it up into categories is to attempt to separate aspects of our experience into neat categories which can't be done in my opinion. It is that ugly combination of racism and sexism that makes it so grotesque.

Daniel said...

I tend to analyse stuff, it's just may way of making sense of the world. I'm not actually pursuing a point by making that difference. (Except maybe that there is more than one battle to be fought here)
Though I was actually a bit surprised, how a female minister could go along with that. But then, as a woman you probably can make minister nowadays, without being concerned with women rights, which usually is a good thing.

Nadève said...

Thank you to the person who posted the link. I think I do understand the whole thing better now. I still think it's disgusting, but I understand it more.

I don't quite get the point of pointing out that this is a politician faced with an unexpected situation, etc. I feel that I can state with certainty that had I been presented with a cake like that, I would not have cut it, would not have laughed. And I think Rose-Anne's point is an excellent one. We need to pay attention to what horrors our societies think it's okay to laugh at.

justmytwocents said...

One has to remember that those were swedes reacting to something unpredictable. Its part of their culture to laugh such a surprise away.

Also ministers get invited to so many events that they just know a bit about whats actually going to happen there.

One has to understand different cultures and so forth to come to the right conclusion.

To make this into something about racism or even ignorance is quite stupid.

currentsbetweenshores.blogspot.com said...


Your glib response to this doesn't reveal much reflection. Your point "one has to understand different cultures and so forth to come to the right conclusion" shows that you have little understanding of the cultures that find this offensive and why this installation caused such a stir ACROSS THE GLOBE.

Clearly many people (including other Europeans) found elements of racism and ignorance in this event. To simply say "to make this about racism or ignorance" is sadly very ignorant indeed.

The point of art is to make on think and reflect. . .

lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Its disgusting and degrading both racially, sexually, and morally.

I don't care if the "artist" is black or if this was supposed to be some kind of message about the whole African genital thing or whatever.

If there was a point to be made, it is lost simply because of the caricature.

As for art having a responsibility of some sort, well I am not one of those people that thinks it should be controlled and often think schools whine too much over risque stuff.

But that doesn't mean all "art" should be paraded around.

I am hoping that maybe this cultural minister was ambushed and had no choice but to go along but if everything else in relation to race going on in this world is anything to go by, its just another chapter in the war on black people.

but the only person worse than the culture minister is the idiotic artist.