The video is outrageous, and in my view, so is the conduct of the assembled Swedes, but calling the cake (which is actually a performance art installation that includes the artist’s actual head screaming when the cake is cut) “racist” is profoundly wrong.
The video features Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, and others, cutting into the cake as the artist screams in agony. Here’s the clip, which, I warn you, literally made me sick to my stomach:
The revulsion works on two levels. The artist, Makode Aj Linde, obviously intended his installation as a work of deadly-dark, vicious satire dramatizing the horror of Female Genital Mutilation, and he hit that mark like a laser.
The reaction of the assembled crowd, though, is perhaps more disturbing. They don’t seem to understand that this isn’t supposed to be “Ha-ha”-funny, and if observers ascribe their glee to a detached, condescending form of racism, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Really, who knows what they were thinking? Who the eff laughs at that?
But I also strongly object to the widespread characterization of the installation itself as somehow racist. The artist is black, and his intention is obviously to dramatize a human rights violation being perpetrated against African girls and women. The interaction with the cake may well have been racist, but the installation itself is exactly the opposite of that. Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan seems to get this:
The cake’s actually a piece of performance art by Makode Aj Linde, who plays the yelling head and says that the cake’s meant to be provocative social commentary on the issue of female circumcision in Africa as it’s viewed by the West. And Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth says she was asked to cut the cake as part of her official appearance at the event, which she describes as a “bizarre situation.” According to Aj Linde’s Facebook page, Liljeroth was asked to whisper “Your life will be better after this!” before cutting into the crotch.
If this performance art were an Ikea bedroom set, it would be the Whatderfük collection.
Kudos for the “Whatderfük” joke, but why, then, does the headline (which, it should be noted, may not have been written by Ryan) call the installation a “Racist Black Lady Cake?”
Conservative website Twitchy.com refers to the installation as a “minstrel cake,” which demonstrates a stunning ignorance of what “minstrelsy” actually means. See, this is African art, but if Anheuser Busch slaps it onto a malt liquor label, it becomes minstrelsy. The cake’s depiction by a black artist isn’t an exploitation of stereotypes, it is an intentionally provocative representation of the victims of FGM.
It is a revolting shame that the folks in this video seemed to miss the point, but that doesn’t mean we have to.
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