Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, Sweden’s minister of culture, started a spate of online arguments about her participation in a recent event when she was asked to cut into a cake at World Art Day at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm on Sunday. This was no typical square reception cake with butter cream frosting. Instead, the cake depicted the torso and head of a black woman lying on her back.
The actual cake that served as the center of the piece of artwork was made out of red sponge cake and made up the torso of the woman. The cake was covered with black fondant. The artist, Makode Aj Linde, placed his head at the top of the cake’s body to serve as the face of the woman. His face bore ornate makeup. The cake was designed to act as a piece of performance art geared towards creating awareness of racial discrimination and female suffering.
A video has gone viral of the minister, among other participants, cutting into the cake near the genital region of the woman’s body. This performance art was specifically designed to reflect issues of female genital mutilation in Africa, according to the artist. The minister was instructed to begin cutting into the cake in the groin area. The artist, whose head sat at the top of the torso, screamed as the minister cut into the flesh of the cake. Linde then continues to scream after each successive slice of cake is taken out of the genital region. According to Color Lines Liljeroth stated (at the artist’s request), “Your life will be better like this” before cutting into the cake for the first time.
This intense and startling video has set alight debates about the inherent messages of such a ceremony, and the value of highlighting female circumcision in such a provocative fashion. Critics of Liljeroth’s cutting of the cake argue that she was participating in the continuation of racism in Sweden. In fact, the African-Swedish Association has asked Liljeroth to step down from her post as the minister of culture because of her participation in the event.
Admittedly, the act of cutting the cake is surprisingly grotesque, even realistic. What makes the video so startling and surprising is the response to the art installation. People stand around laughing, chatting, and eating cake as you hear the disturbing screams coming from the artist over and over again. The atrocities visited upon the female body are trivialized in this reception atmosphere. Linde, an African-Swedish artist, designed the exhibit to ensure that people would cut around the genital region of the cake first in order to make for an uncomfortable and unsettling experience and also to highlight the pain of circumcision.
Linde argues that the piece was misunderstood and that it was meant to serve as one of the few pieces of African-Swedish art available in the country. According to The Guardian, Liljeroth stands by her decision to participate, stating that art should be provocative. The lack of attention paid to the mutilation of the black woman’s body during the event perhaps suggests the discomfort many people feel with discussing issues of racism, violence, and circumcision. Kitimbwe Sabuni, spokesperson for the African-Swedish Association, stands by the assertion that the art was a racist caricature of real issues going on in Sweden in the present moment.
Photo Credit: maxo-facto