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Douchebag Decree: That Racist Swedish Cake and Everyone Who Had a Piece in It.

You've probably seen the photos (trigger warning). On the table is a cake, the naked torso of an African woman rendered in edible red velvet with inky black frosting, connected to the head of a performance artist exaggerated by the make-up of blackface. Participants are bid not only to cut into the cake but to perform a clitoridectomy on the torso with swollen belly, prominent nipples, and conspicuous labia. And if you've seen the video with its disturbing audio (again, trigger warning), when one makes the incision, the performance artist arches back with screams of agony, the sounds highlighted by a huge painted-on red mouth and oversized pointy teeth. In the most ubiquitous photos, Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth is gamely feeding the head, laughing, the background filled with other smiling faces and eager photographers.  All are white.

Like many, I find these images racist, repulsive, and anti-woman. But, because this cake was consumed at museum and not, (believe it or not) at a pathetic frat party, and this cake was conceived as performance art, we will discuss further.

Afro-Swedish artist Makode Linde, who is male, made the cake to celebrate World Art Day at the Moderna Museet. Although much of the media reports have stated that the piece of performance art intended to bring awareness to practice of female circumcision, I think it important to note that the theme of the celebration was actually censorship and freedom of speech and did not concern women, race, oppression or female circumcision. Furthermore, in a videotaped interview with Al Jazeera, when asked, "Why did you choose female circumcision as the subject?," Linde responded,

There are many different entries into this piece and because of the medium, which was cake, the mutilation part of the piece was quite natural because you had to cut it up…Since I'm dealing with prejudice [and] ideas about black identity, the theme for the birthday celebration was censorship and freedom of speech, I think this piece was very appropriate. Because a lot of prejudice that concerns black identity, is that female circumcision is something that is because of oppression against women, and this oppression only takes place in black Africa and so on, but the oppression is one oppression. It's like its one racism and one oppression against women and homophobia, and takes it different forms in Africa or in Europe or in Sweden or anywhere, so by them labeling oppression to be only female circumcision. I think that's putting on blindfolds for seeing what oppression really is.

Both Linde and Culture Minister Liljeroth are fending off charges of racism. The African Swedish National Association has called for her resignation. Linde has tried to remind people that he is an anti-racism artist, played the "this is art" card, and tried to explain away the criticism by saying the photos, shared across the Internet, are being taken out of context.

But here's the problem. An Afro-Swedish black man in black face attaches himself to cake upon which white people perform a clitoridectomy and further mutilation.  Yet he describes the piece as not about female genital mutilation (problematic as that would be). Rather it is about the other forms of oppression which go untalked about when people focus on female genital mutilation (FMG).  And that's a generous interpretation.  Because what I'm really afraid I hear, is the artist saying that when people say FMG is oppressive, black men are oppressed. And he's using the bodies of black women and FGM survivors to add shcok value to his message. As Jamilah Lemieux asked at Ebony.com, "Was he really trying to inspire global action against FGM, or did he use a black woman's plight to shock himself to worldwide notoriety?" (This is the time to remember, ahem, that this was a celebration about freedom of speech and censorship). 

Nevertheless, the visual display is virulently anti-woman and Linde hasn't done anything to correct this impression. And globally, racism and the oppression of women are so intertwined that you can't have a misogynist display of a black woman, as a black caricature, without it being racist.

Linde's wrong about a couple of other things too. He may have his own intentions, but the bigger context is the ongoing oppression women of color, and the history of minstrelsy, colonization, and violence against women that his piece ignored. The performance isn't just the ceremony; it's also the online pushback that showed that what happened in the museum—from the cake-cutting to the artist's statement—is not something that can be laughed away.

Previously: Governor Scott Walker, General in the War on WomenBelvedere Takes Lack of Consent to New Level

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Comments

7 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Interesting ...

Of course I had seen the videos and pictures online, and thought it appalling, but hearing the artist's statement on the work has me wondering if the piece wasn't a critique on Western culture's rush to "save" African women from the practice of female genital mutilation, which is in some circles called "female circumcision" and considered a revered cultural practice and in even larger circles accepted as a cultural issue more complicated than it is generally perceived by the white, Western imagination. Sort of like the whole KONY 2012 / invisible Children critique? I mean, perhaps that is what he was trying to say, however inelegantly ( I assume English is not his first language). If so, I understand and respect that intention-- speaking as a white, American woman who once worked at a Somali women's health organization in London, UK, which advocated for the eradication of female genital mutilation. (more on this debate, see http://www.amazon.com/The-Female-Circumcision-Controversy-Anthropologica...)

THAT SAID, even if this was his intention, there's a bit of irony, then, that it's a male artist that is trying to make this point. I also think that it is overwhelmingly clear that the work was not received this way, neither as images of the art were relayed around the world nor right then at the event (from what I saw, people just found it hee-larious to cut into that cake) in which case, regardless of his intention, major fail.

WHY? I want to know why

WHY? I want to know why anyone would do something like this! There is no excuse for this shit except the RACISM! Disgusting. I can't believe it. I am not saying censor it, I am saying WHY would anyone do this?

Bad job, man.

"Because a lot of prejudice that concerns black identity, is that female circumcision is something that is because of oppression against women, and this oppression only takes place in black Africa and so on, but the oppression is one oppression. It's like its one racism and one oppression against women and homophobia, and takes it different forms in Africa or in Europe or in Sweden or anywhere, so by them labeling oppression to be only female circumcision. I think that’s putting on blindfolds for seeing what oppression really is."

This comment perplexes me. It's a little hard to even understand exactly what his point is, but what I think he's trying to say is that by calling FMG a type of oppression against women, we are over simplifying what oppression really is. I could not disagree more with this statement. FMG is a type of oppression, absolutely. In response to the earlier comment about the problems with Westerners going into places such as Africa and trying to eradicate it, I mean, I totally agree that most westerners do not fully understand FMG. And we certainly don't know how to fix it. Look at the U.S., we call the same thing "vaginal rejuvenation." It's so sad.

But this artist sounds like he really doesn't know anything about it either. And I don't believe in censorship, BUT I and many other feminists are understandably hyper-critical when men are making art about issues that overwhelmingly affect women. WOMYN ARTISTS - MAKE ART ABOUT YOUR BODIES. AND MAKE ART IN RESPONSE TO MEN MAKING ART ABOUT YOUR BODIES WHEN YOU FEEL THEY DID A POOR JOB.

>> Look at the U.S., we call

>> Look at the U.S., we call the same thing "vaginal rejuvenation." <<

Young children having their genitals chopped up against their will is not the same as adults choosing to change their bodies.

In the U.S. we do circumcise a great (though declining) number of boys, however. This is a better comparison, though still not exactly "the same thing."

FGM is not the same as male

FGM is not the same as male circumcision - they shouldn't be compared.

Thank you I despise this

Thank you I despise this comparison.

They don't compare

Sorry to break this to you, but male circumcision isn't the same as female genitalia mutilation. Male circumcision is removing a small piece of the foreskin on the penis with the overall health of the boys in mind, and it is usually done with anethesia and/or when the boys are very young so they won't remember the pain. Female genitalia mutilation is completely slicing off the clitoris without any numbing medication and is done at a later age so the girls/women can remember the pain vividly. Not only that, but male circumsions don't remove all of the boys' sensitive nerves, so they can enjoy sex whenever they can, while fgm removes all sexual pleasure for the girls in the hopes that they don't become sluts and cheat on their husbands at the same time as making the sex the girls have with their husbands painful and unbearable later on (the part where they completely sew up the sliced part to a small hole barely big enough for penetration.)