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Art takes the cake

Luke Harding

An African rights body has called on a Swedish minister to resign over her role in an art event that highlighted female genital mutilation and racism.

Sweden’s minister of culture has been accused of racism after cutting a cake depicting a naked black woman.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was taking part in an event at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the capital’s museum of modern art and home to works by Picasso and Dali. She was invited to cut the cake, an art installation meant to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation. She began, as instructed, by taking a chunk from the cake’s “clitoris”.

The artist, Makode Aj Linde, who created the installation for World Art Day on April 15, took part in the cake cutting, with his blackened face and head sticking up next to the cake’s stomach and arms. The cake’s “insides” were a gruesome red.

A video shows him screaming loudly every time a visitor hacks off another slice of the cake.
Linde posted photos of the “genital mutilation cake” on his Facebook page. The images provoked a furious response and Sweden’s African-Swedish Association described it as “a racist spectacle”.

A spokesperson for the association, Kitimbwa Sabuni, told Sweden’s The Local newspaper: “This simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden.”

A racist caricature

The association has demanded the minister’s resignation, saying it doubted a cake party meant to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation had achieved its aim. Instead, the cake was just “a racist caricature of a black woman”. Sabuni said the minister’s decision to take part in a dubious event with cannibalistic overtones showed her “incompetence and lack of judgment”.

Sabuni told the newspaper: “Her participation, as she laughs, drinks and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision.”

Adelsohn Liljeroth said she sympathised with the criticisms, but denied she had done anything wrong. Speaking to the TT news agency, she conceded the event was provocative and bizarre and said she had been invited to speak about artistic freedom and the right to offend.

She added: “They wanted me to cut the cake.”

Ultimately, the artist was to blame for any confusion, she said, arguing that the situation had been misinterpreted. “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.”

Sabuni dismissed the remarks and called them “extremely insulting”. He added: “Sweden thinks of itself as a place where racism is not a problem. That just provides cover for not discussing the issue, which leads to incidents like this.

“To participate in a racist manifestation masquerading as art is totally over the line and can only be interpreted as the culture minister supporting the Moderna Museet’s racist prank,” he said.—

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