Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Black Woman Body Cake: White Privilege Swedish Style

This post has been syndicated at BlogHer.com where it has been updated to reflect the revelation that the artist in black face is of African descent.

The National Afro-Swedish Association is demanding that Sweden's minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth be fired for participating in an April 15th World Art Day celebration during which she ate a piece of cake. The problem is not that she ate cake; the problem is the kind of cake she ate. The video above from the art installation is one of the most disturbing things I have ever seen, and the pictures are equally disturbing, such as the one below showing the Swedish minister of culture smiling with a slice of the black woman body cake in one hand as she joyfully feeds cake to its own head with her other hand. The head of is the actual head of the artist himself coming from under the table. He is in blackface, pretending to be in pain, screaming.

From the Huffington Post article about the incident:
As party-goers cut into the cake-woman's body, a human head screamed in pain.

The performance artist responsible for portraying the cake's head, a man (yes, a man) identified by The Local as Makode Aj Linde, posted a comment alongside a photo of the cake on his Facebook page.

"This is After getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth," Linde wrote. "Before cutting me up she whispered "Your life will be better after this" in my ear."

Many were quick to condemn the installation as racist.
I must agree that this art, no matter what the artist's intent, is horrific and racist. What is in the water in Europe when it comes to race? Its artists and producers fail to see that these kinds of creative expressions are nearly as disrespectful and as much driven by racial arrogance as the atrocitites they claim to protest. Let's recall Slavery: The Game of last year here.

Coincidentally, in an ironic sort of way, the genital mutilation cake has been described as Sarah Baartman-like by someone on Facebook. Sarah Baartman was the African woman upon whom the "Hottentot Venus" was based. She was a slave owned by Dutch farmers. Her body was exhibited as freakish in Europe during the nineteenth century. I don't suppose the Swedish artist sees how he, in making this cake, is similar to those Europeans who exploited Baartman. Nor do I suppose that the Swedish minister of culture perceives that she is no better than the people who went to see Baartman's body. Baartman was told that she would become rich in Europe.

The producers behind Slavery the Game, by the way, were also Dutch, like Baartman's owners. Ah, here we are today, in the twenty-first century, two hundred years after Baartman, but one year the Dutch reveal their poor judgment and inability to teach about slavery and next the Swedish show the depth and breadth of their ignorance on race matters and their ineptness at teaching about genital mutilation.

So, to wrap up: A white, male European artist and a white female minister of culture walk into a party, the opening of a very sad joke at African women's expense, but both claim to be anti-racist, and this is what you get--white people standing around laughing, drinking, and mutilating symbolically the body of a black woman that they then consume while the white male artist wears black face and screams in pain.

The Minister of Culture feeds the cake to the white artist, perhaps even seeing that she is symbolically feeding the black woman to herself, forcing the black woman to consume herself for the sake of white entertainment and participate in her own exploitation. The white woman then whispers in to the ear of the white male artist that his life will be better after this. Or does she mean to say that the black woman will be better for letting white people enjoy her pain and send money to the Congo?

Again, the hegemony earns money off making light of black suffering, and those who exploit that pain say they meant nothing by it. Nothing at all but to do a good deed. This, unfortunately for us all, is the world; this is all kind of wrong.


Gena said...

I'm telling you, some body must have wrote the global permission letter. It is a tidal wave of who can top this week in insensitivity.

Let's take race out for a nanosecond; - symbolic and artistic cannibalism is a good thing?

Ok now add race back in - are you freaking kidding me? And that is as close as I dare because I shouldn't type in anger.

Stephen Brooke said...

Racist? I suppose so. Really bad academic art? Most definitely (and also offensive, in its way).

Sister Big said...

I am so disturbed and confused by this entire cake situation I don't even know what to say.

Elise said...

Hello, Art Student here,

I don't get how you can say that an artist's intent doesn't matter.

Artists depict racism in order to make statements against it all the time. This artist is clearly doing that. He didn't put on black face in order to look black, he put on black face in the exact style that was used in the 19th and early twentieth century, stark black skin, round red lips, white eyes, recalling that era's racism, its mammy dolls and racist theater. The piece is obviously about subjugation, mutilation, etc. Buts its against those things.

I find the photograph with the crowd bizarre. Why are they all laughing/smiling, this should be a disturbing piece. So yeah, I have issue with the audience's reaction. Of course its likely the audience was very freaked out at first by the piece and the woman feeding the artist the cake broke some of the tension, and people being relieved, burst into nervous laughter and then a photographer snapped a misleading photograph. Or not, that's an issue of the audience's reaction/ignorance, which is possibly why the artist chose to do this piece, to call attention to the ignorance in his society. I do agree that european countries, particularly homogenous ones like sweden, can be very ignorant about race issues.

90% of contemporary art that features racist imagery is meaning to speak out against that racism.

If we ban any depiction of racism, how are we supposed to talk about it? Should we ban Spike Lee's movies since some of his characters are racist? That obviously doesn't mean he shares the opinions of his characters.