A Piece of Hate Cake Revisited…

April 18, 2012

For the most part, the Swedish minstrel cake and the event surrounding it sparked mass outrage. However, today articles and opinions have surfaced, suggesting that the artist Makode Aj Linde did not intend on the cake being the final work of “art”, but rather the scene as a whole as the final work, giving harsh critique and commentary on racism in Europe and the West’s quickness to jump on pointing out oppression in Africa without full knowledge and insight. People amongst this camp are praising Linde for his brave and provocative success of exposing this modern-day colonialist mindset.

Writing for Africa is a Country, John Palme acclaims, “It’s a brilliant staging of structural racism and post-colonial existence.”

Giving Linde credit as a master puppeteer, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley wrote for Ebony, “I saw something powerful and heartbreaking unfold in this gallery. The celebrants and revelers at the exhibit were merely unwitting–but abundantly willing–performers in Linde’s play. The cake was not for their delight. The wails he let forth as the cake was cut into was not for their amusement. Linde wasn’t enjoying the moment, making light of a brutal history; indeed, his presence served to shame them, to shame them for partaking in something so distasteful as a cake representing the countless girls and women who have been brutalized. They should have been outraged. They should have been disgusted, haranguing for the cake and the artist to be removed immediately. But they weren’t. Rather than recoil in horror and outrage at the sight of such a cake or the sound of such screams, the men and women in attendance–The West–ate and chitchatted and snapped pictures of the spectacle.”

Though Linde admits to attempting to expose racism and ignorance of Europeans who only focus on certain types of oppression in Africa when racism is still rife in their communities, he claims he did not know what the response of the crowd would be. “I think a lot of people saw some images taken during the performance, saw the pictures online and took the images out of its context. And they accused me and the cultural minister to be racists,” he said. “So I think the people who have been upset about the art piece, about the images, have seen have misunderstood the intention or the agenda of me as an artist.”

It is interesting to note that much of the focus has been on the fact that Linde is a black man, and his artwork in the past, much with the minstrel blackface theme, has been dedicated to raising awareness about racism. Fair enough. What has not been emphasized is that Linde is mixed race, which means he is just as much “white” as he is “black”, showing how the one-drop rule still plays a huge role in our global culture. This would not even be a conversation if a white artist attempted the same “art”. Also, though I’m sure Linde has come across racism living in Europe, it is also noteworthy that he was born in Stockholm, and is assumedly just as far removed from the plight of Africans as other Swedes are.

No one can argue that, no matter what the artist’s true intentions were, Linde’s stunt exposed a strange form of modern-day imperialism and racism. But I think the question we should be asking is, at what cost? Does one injustice hold greater weight than  another, as the atrocity of female circumcision was seemingly made light of, allegedly to expose racism and imperialism? Even if the West shouts out about “oppression” they may know little about, it does not take away from the fact that genital mutilation is a disgusting form of torture, performed on young girls who have no choice in the matter, negatively affecting them for the rest of their lives.

Linde’s tasteless portrayal of an African female undergoing genital mutilation in the mocking form of a cake is a serious problem to many people. Take for example poet and author Kola Boof, who is an actual victim of genital mutilation, who cannot see past the mockery, tweeting heart felt tweets in response to the Ebony article,

@kolaboof: Who is getting this “meaningful artful picture”….at the expense of CUT WOMEN like myself? They see it as hilarious!

@kolaboof: I am vaginally infibulated. I have suffered…my entire life!!! My life is HELL!! And you think this is reaching people??”

I know art is a powerful tool that can be used to expose the ills our societies are plagued with. I am also all for freedom of expression and speech. But I also believe that with that freedom comes a sense of responsibility, and I do not believe Linde acted responsibly, creating “art” that was insensitive to the very people he was allegedly trying to help. And though he claims his point was to expose these post-colonial mindsets of Europeans, he continues to dismissively make excuses for the the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, and she continues to refuse to apologize for any part she had in the event. Wait. So, what was the point of it all again?

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A Piece of Hate Cake…

April 18, 2012

When I saw the Swedish minstrel cake fiasco this morning, I literally could not believe my eyes. It was one of the most disturbing things I have seen in a while. It was so completely offensive, on so many different levels. And then, of course, people’s responses to it online added to the offense, many trying to excuse the racist act by saying the “artist was a black man”, as if that makes it any better. It’s inexcusable.

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, pictures and videos have emerged from a tax-funded, Swedish World Art Day party that took place on Saturday, where the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, performed a clitoridectomy on a cake negatively depicting a black African woman in a minstrelesque-type way. Apparently, this piece of “modern performance art” done by Makode Aj Linde was made to raise awareness of the plight of female circumcision in Africa. At best, it tragically made a mockery of the cause, and managed to stir up outrage and pain that has been inflicted on African women for hundreds of years.

Putting aside the racist overtones for a moment, it does not take a genius to realize that not only did this event bring absolutely nothing positive to the plight of female circumcision, it went further, adding insult to injury, by the negative depiction of the African female. It made me sick to my stomach to watch the artist, with his actual head (in black face) connected to the cake, pseudo-screaming as people cut into the body of the cake. The jolly faces, laughing, and enjoyment of the party-goers do not reflect people who are aware of the seriousness of genital mutilation. As a matter of fact, they seem to be having a great time, and enjoying some cake. This brings the level of disturbance up a notch for me. Watch the video for yourself:

Not only did the alleged “message” of the “performance art” completely miss the mark, but the cake in and of itself was a repulsively racist minstrel parody of an African woman. It reminded me of the 1800s, when Saartjie Baartman was stolen from South Africa and taken to Europe as a sideshow spectacle. Europeans, young and old, paid money to gawk, point, gasp, laugh and jeer at Saartjie’s naked body, exhibiting features the white people were not accustomed to. Saartjie was dehumanized and humiliated for the entertainment and enjoyment of others. And of course Saartjie was unfortunately not the only one subjected to this inhumane treatment, as the tradition of “black mockery for white entertainment” went on for hundreds of years, even taking different shapes and forms.

I imagine the Europeans who gawked at Saartjie Baartman looked very similar to the faces found in the crowd of Swedish cultural elite, as Liljeroth, the self-proclaimed “anti-racist”, feeds the “African” a piece of her very own body; smiles, laughter, camaraderie, and not one single look of protest, disgust, or opposition.

Arguments that “the artist is black, and that makes it alright”, or that “performance art is an extreme medium known for shock factor” are outlandishly absurd. The people who say things like that act as though things are being blown out of proportion, “It’s performance art. What’s the big deal?!” I suppose a generation of people raised in an intrinsically racist system, where even Bugs Bunny occasionally dressed up in minstrel black face, have trouble seeing the harm in this. Photographer and activist Dwayne Rodgers tweeted, “The big problem is the “right” everyone seems to have to play with very painful images of Black people.”

I wonder what the response would be if photographs and videos emerged of a group of Germans laughing and eating whilst standing around a Holocaust victim cake. I think people would be a little offended, to say the least. I suspect total outrage would be more like it. And if the person who baked the cake was Jewish, would that make it any more okay or right? Of course not! Because there is history there, and it would be completely insensitive to even imagine such a thing.

I’m not sure what is more disheartening to me, the fact that preposterous racist occurrences like this continue to happen in these modern times, or the fact that so many people are so quick to defend them, seemingly wanting to hold on to that “right” that Dwayne Rodgers speaks of. As if a Minister of Culture taking part in something like this isn’t bad enough, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth herself has tried to justify, rationalize and make excuses by saying that the event is being “misinterpreted”. Right. Sigh. Liljeroth’s out of touch, “let them eat cake” mentality is ironic to say the least.