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Swedish ‘cake-gate’ about art, racism and freedom of expression

19 April 2012

The cake installation ‘Könsstympningstårtan’ – ‘The Circumcision Tart’ – by the artist Makode Aj Linde depicting a naked black woman at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm sparked outrage and brought tempers to a boil in mid-April 2012.

In conjunction with the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Swedish Artists’ National Organisation (Konstnärernas Riksorganisations, KRO) held at the Modern Museum in Stockholm on 15 April 2012, a number of artists had been invited to each create a cake artwork to mark the World Art Day.

World Art Day is organised by International Association of Art annually on 15 April to focus on censorship and freedom of expression for artists, and at Moderna Museet in Stockholm the occassion was combined with the opening of an exhibition on the subject of circumcision, where the Swedish Minister of Culture and other guests were treated to Makode Aj Linde’s cake that depicted a screaming African woman who was about to be circumcised.

The Youtube-images from the session soon created a minor media storm in the Nordic countries. Within three days, this video from the event had been seen more than half a million times:

Call for Minister’s dismissal
The national association of Afro-Swedes prompted calls for the the Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Roth’s dismissal, because she cheerfully had participated in the carving up the cake which, according to the association’s spokesman Kitimbwa Sabuni, is a racist caricature of a black woman.

“Yes, we actually call for her dismissal. A top politician should not behave in that way. You should at least question the purpose of this type of art and then ask yourself if you want to be participating in it. This is an expression of acceptance that you can make fun of us Afro-Swedes, treat us badly and trampling on us,” said Zechariah Zouhir from the Association of Afro-Swedes to the Danish tv-channel TV2 News on 17 April 2012.

The Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn Roth, in reaction to the criticism against her, issued a statement on the ministry’s website, headlined “Art Must Be Allowed to Provoke,” where she writes:

“The very purpose of World Art Day is to discuss and highlight the role of art in society – that it should be an independent force with freedom as its foundation. So art must also be able to be provocative and ask uncomfortable questions.”

Lena Adelsohn Roth also apologized for any unintentional offense she had caused and agreed to meet with leaders of the Afro-Swedish group on 18 April.

Afromantics
The artist, Makode Aj Linde, a 30-year-old Swede with an African father, told New York Times’ Robert Mackey in a Skype-interview that his work “explores racist imagery through exaggeration”. He rejected claims that he was racist, and explained that the screaming cake was part of a series of works he calls “Afromantics.” His intention for the works, he said, is “revamping the blackface into a new historical narrative and sort of lifting invisible prejudice to an exaggerated level, where it’s becoming over-obvious and in a way more in your face and easier to talk about.
In my art, I’m more like questioning the different images of blackness. I’m not illustrating real black identity. I am illustrating ideas, or concepts, or patterns that surround ideas about black identity.”

Previous works in the series on Linde’s website include images of the Swedish royal family on porcelain plates that have been altered to give some of the figures the type of stereotypically African features that were once commonly used in cartoons in Europe.

The New York Times, Robert Mackey’s blog – 18 April 2012:
Swedish Culture Minister Refuses to Resign Over Bizarre Photo-Op

The Local – 17 April 2012:
Minister in ‘racist circumcision outrage’

Dagens Media – 17 April 2012:
Afrosvenskarna: Avgå, Liljeroth

World Art Day’s home page:
iaaworldartday.com

 

Letter from European Network Against Racism (ENAR) to Prime Minister of Sweden, Frederik Reinfeldt:
Re: Participation of Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, Minister of Culture, in a racist art event [PDF]

Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund – 17 April 2012:
National Association for Afro Swedes demands minister resignation [PDF]

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