Anorak | What was up with that “racist cake”?

What was up with that “racist cake”?

by | 26th, April 2012

 IS Sweden’s international image as a country dedicated to tolerance and egalitarianism a mirage? Is the Scandinavian nation, in reality, a deeply bigoted place where dark-skinned people are routinely discriminated against, and where racism is seen as a bit of a laugh? Following the fiasco known as ‘cakegate’ involving a ‘blackface’, a cake shaped as an African tribeswoman and a philistine cultural minister some would have you believe so.

In case you haven’t already seen the shocking images from Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art where the notorious ‘racist cake’ incident happened, here’s a re-cap: The museum was celebrating World Art Day and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Swedish Artists’ National Organisation. A bunch of artists had been asked to create cakes for the event and the minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, was invited to open the proceedings by cutting one of them. It was designed by a Swede of African descent who said he wanted to draw attention to the practice of female genital mutilation.

Now, if you’re handed a knife and asked to perform a symbolic clitoridectomy on a cake shaped in the form of an African woman’s torso, the sensible thing to do would be to put the knife down, tell the minstrel-faced artist, whose head is poking out of a hole at the top of the table, that his dessert is disgusting, and walk away. Piece of cake! Instead, Liljeroth whispered into the artist’s ear, ‘your life will be better after this’, cut a big chunk of cake up, and then fed it to the artist. He, in turn, screamed in feigned pain and continued to wail as guest after guest cut into the cake’s abdomen, exposing its red, strawberry-flavoured insides. It was, to put it mildly, a distasteful way of addressing female circumcision.

It didn’t take long for a Twitterstorm to brew. The hashtag ‘tårtgate’ (cakegate) was coined and photos of the gleeful minister went viral. The museum was evacuated following a bomb scare and the National Association of Afro-Swedes demanded Liljeroth’s resignation, calling the whole affair a ‘racist spectacle’.

Liljeroth and the other guests had fallen for a Yoko Ono-ish artistic prank. They became part of the performance, and the image of the laughing minister feeding the minstrel-faced artist with his mock genitals became the lasting artefact from the ‘happening’. The whole affair exposed an astonishing level of cluelessness among members of the Swedish political and cultural establishment. Don’t they know about minstrel shows? Haven’t they heard of the brand of shock art that uses spectacle and manipulation of participants as part of the creative process? Didn’t they think that gorging on symbolic genitals is a really weird way of raising awareness of female circumcision? Didn’t the ‘mutilated’ cake look bloody gross to them?

What the incident did not prove, however, is that Sweden is an endemically racist country where it is OK to jeer at black people. After all, Liljeroth has faced a barrage of criticism at home and Swedes have been embarrassed and shocked by the images that came out of the event. The sight of the caricatured cake surrounded by laughing white people has made jaws drop in Sweden just as much as abroad. Nobody has come out in defence of minstrel shows or celebrated digging into symbolic black people. The artist himself, Makode Linde, has contested claims that Liljeroth and the other attendees are racists. His cake was part of a series of works that he has branded ‘Afromantics’ art pieces that explore questions of identity, race and post-colonialism. In previous works, Linde has projected caricatured imagery on to famous figures like the Statue of Liberty, Jesus, Swedish royals and Betty Boop. He wants to provoke people into questioning and confronting prejudices.

But members of the Afro-Swedish Association were neither amused nor encouraged to engage in arts analysis. A spokesperson, Jallow Momodou, wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian entitled ‘Sweden: the country where racism is just

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Posted: 26th, April 2012 | In: Key Posts, News Comments (3) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink