Screaming black female circumcision cake controversial

Swedish culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cut into an unusual cake at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm this Saturday, and found herself at the center of a controversy some might say could have been predicted.

The remarkable cake design--featuring a edible black torso and the artist's head screaming as guests tucked in--was intended to draw attention to female genital mutilation in Africa.

Campaigners, however, say it is itself an unacceptable caricature. From Sweden's The Local:

"In our view, this simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden," [said] Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association."This was a racist spectacle."

... the culture minister began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris. Makode Aj Linde, the artist who created the installation and whose head is part of the cake cut by the minister, wrote about the "genital mutilation cake" on his Facebook page.

"Before cutting me up she whispered, 'Your life will be better after this' in my ear," he wrote in a caption next to the partially eaten cake.

Minister in 'racist circumcision outrage' [The Local]


      1. Maybe koko’s point wasn’t to complain that it would be called racist if a white person did it, but rather to say that even though the artist is black, it’s still offensive. Hard to tell from the comment, could go either way.

  1. This woman seems to lack that little voice in one’s head that says “This might not look good.”

    1. Really? Because if you read the article you’d know “This might not look good” is nearly a translation of the Artists statement. The minister was there in an official role to encourage an installation intended to provoke and draw attention to the artists right/duty to provoke. And genital mutilation. That’s far worse than a cake, right?

      So, you see the outrage, Yay. Do you see the point?

      “I understand quite well that this is provocative and that it was a rather bizarre situation,” she said. “I was invited to speak at World Art Day about art’s freedom and the right to provoke. And then they wanted me to cut the cake.”

      1. Really?  I did read the article and regardless of what the artist says the minister is a politician and has to consider the appearance of her actions and how people might respond.

        From the BBC
        “But the Association for African Swedes said it was a crude racist caricature…”

        Do you see the point yourself?

          1. @cola If all you see is the caricature, if you can’t see past it, the artist has made exactly the intended point.

    2. Maybe the artist’s point was to test the Minister/culture droids to see if they would reject the photo op, a sort of Stanford Experiment with baked goods.

  2. I think the (black, before anyone starts) artist’s work is so shamelessly provocative you’re either going to walk away or giggle yourself stupid at it. Not sure if I can speak for the indicted audience at all, but if I was confronted with something that patently outrageous I’d struggle not to laugh like a madman.

    1.  This happened with my entire year in junior school when subjected to a  shockingly brutal anti-vivisection video.  Someone started snickering at the monkeys being shocked and eventually the whole hall was howling. The poor cardiganed dearie who was subjecting 120 12-year old boys to this unendurable presentation was absolutely shocked.

    1. I’d prefer that it be clever too.  Marilyn Manson was “controversial” at one time too. just sayin.

      *edit* I’m not talking about this piece, just comment on employing “shock” as an easy attention getter in the arts in general.

    2. “If art is controversial then it’s probably doing something right.”

      And this is why South Park has ruined a generation for political discussion.

    3. Outrage (by itself) is pretty cheap and easy to evoke. Go to a fancy restaurant, pull down your pants, and shit into some poor unsuspecting soul’s soup. Claim it was a piece of performance art, and measure its success through controversy.

      Just as the Queen said to Alice “why sometimes I’ve thought of six outrageous things before breakfast…”

    1.  Me too–cake gets a bad wrap.  There’s an ocean of difference between a truly superb cake and a kid’s birthday cake from Safeway.  Would it be a paradox if a cake were both tasteless and tasty?

  3. Well it’s not like this was her birthday party and she just hired some black actor off the street to sit there and scream while their “body” was cut to pieces. As art (as much as any of these pranks are considered art are these days) I’d say this is a success.

    1. Agreed! I had never known previously that Swedes had art*. This is a huge leap forward for the minister, and since her job is to draw attention to art, well, it’s actually a job well done. 

      * – sarcasm

    2. “she just hired some black actor off the street to sit there and scream while their “body” was cut to pieces”

      I think some white person in blackface actually stuck their head through a hole at some point, if I’ve seen the right photos of this incident.

  4. Gives the ol’ fetus cake a run for it’s money!

    Kind of reminds me of Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.” A work of art with a lot of unused potential that just ended up feeling more cheesy than anything else… got excess eyeballs anyway due to all the hootenanny.

  5. I really cannot imagine where you make the first cut on this cake. I would have passed just for this reason alone. I mean, an Easter lamb cake? Head first. Every kid knows that. A female circumcision cake? Uh, no idea.

    I’m also surprised that there is no (apparent) controversy that the artist is a male.

    1. Well, how many things can people be upset about at once? I think somewhere around “blackfacey makeup on black person” we hit the limit of specific abstractions a human mind can juggle simultaneously.

        1.  Except that the ‘”cannibal savage” tone’ is more like a replica of the kind of kitsch that was popular in the 1950s for lampstands, ashtrays, and the like. What hasn’t been mentioned is that the cake itself is very plump, rather a “Hottentot Venus” if not pregnant.

  6. People of color can make art that offends other people of color. Racialicious had some things to say: I’m bothered that the artist is a man hijacking women’s experiences, plus I’m really skeeved whenever the end goal is to “raise awareness” or to be controversial for the sake of being controversial. And whenever anyone is inspecific as to where in Africa they are talking about–Africa is a very large continent, not a country.

    1.  I feel that there’s a real danger in the way you say “offends… people of colour”. Without making any comment on whether or not this art is racist, my understanding is that racism is about the presumption that one race is better than another and discrimination that results. It’s not about who is offended by the behaviour. Since this is being called a “racist incident” (I notice you yourself didn’t use the term, but practically every report did), it’s in those terms that it has to be considered. We can agree on that, right?

      With that said, this is the most disturbing and frankly awful thing I think I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen things, man. The thing that I personally find most repulsive is that people would take part even in a caricature of that situation; I myself wouldn’t have gone near that thing with a ten-foot pole. I get that the point is a novel comment on “we are all the oppressor”, but why take part in a ritual that represents doing something so awful to another human being? It’s baffling.

      I can only presume that Sweden has some social conventions that made not taking part a huge faux pas; especially for the minister, who seems to have been manipulated into just that sort of situation for publicity’s sake. That or the people cutting the cake are a small minority of unthinking or genuinely racist people at a gathering of otherwise fine people who stayed the hell away.

      1. I was responding to the comments here assuming that because the artist is black, he’s incapable of making art that people (specifically black women) might find offensive, racist, and misogynistic, or that people would be wrong to find his art offensive, racist, and misogynistic. Definitely not aiming to downplay the racism and misogyny by calling it something else.

      2. “my understanding is that racism is about the presumption that one race is better than another and discrimination that results”

        That’s a very limited definition, so your understanding is flawed.

        This is a bizarre expression of privilege and regurgitating minstrelsy-like caricatures at BEST, regurgitating the “africa as cannibals” racist 17th century anthro trope is how I see it.

  7. And this is why you don’t let artists make your cake.  It’s going to involve someone stabbing it with a knife in the end while someone takes a photo.

    I mean, unless you’re going to have a baker do some art for your walls.  I mean, fair’s fair, right?

  8. When you see the photograph of the Minister laughing maniacally, you’ll know it’s for a good cause. I thought it was clever, and along the lines of Dali’s Cannibalism in Autumn or Premonition of Civil War. That’s art.

    Also, I have it on very good authority that having your genitals mutilated hurts like a @##$#@$$@$%$#(#*#@*@(@*@@@##@@ for quite a long time, even with general anesthetic . Anyone who would do it unnecessarily is indeed a maniac, but that’s just my humble, deluded, racist, sexist opinion.

    1. “When you see the photograph of the Minister laughing maniacally, you’ll know it’s for a good cause.”

      What the fuck?

      1. If you think that social commentary is invalid and impotent as a means of influencing public understanding and perceptions of a subject then you are very very misguided.

        1. I do have an ‘art degree’ and am a professional artist so I hope I’m allowed to at least say this:

          I do not believe that artists should be censored. However, I don’t think that the manner in which artists chose to engage the public (especially if they are giving the impression that the work is endorsing a very serious cause)  should be completely absolved from criticism or value judgement either. There are ways to communicate an issue that are more effective than others.

          *IF* a given artist’s main goal is to communicate or express something about a given issue, then there is value in assessing whether this goal is being met and to what extent.

          1. Dude, most artists are just rich kids trying to play it dangerous. They use that whole freedom of expression law to justify whatever attention-grabbing edgy controversy they’re using to get ahead. 

          2. Now all that I can think about is what if they had Thomas Kinkade do a painting about female circumcision.

          3. @Antinous_Moderator:disqus :  Now all that I can think about is what if they had Thomas Kinkade do a painting about female circumcision.

            Colourful glows in really weird places…

          4. I, too, don’t believe or assert that an artist should be absolved from criticism or value judgement, but much of the commentary around this issue is of the “he shouldn’t have done this” flavour which is more like censorship than saying “I don’t like this” or “IMO this is unacceptable”.

            No one can take your opinion away but at the same time no one can tell an artist not to do something. All you can do is judge for yourself. I loathe artists who try to load meaning into their work to add gravitas but my experience is that most exhibited artists’ main goal is often more about provoking consideration and exploring ideas than making commentary.

  9. I think the idea that you are celebrating (the event) in order to raise awareness about a harsh issue (mutilation) is contridictory. The two emotional sides cancel each other out, so one is forced to choose something that isn’t related to either. Its not racist, its just poor taste.

    Seeing this as the black woman I am, just exhausts me because these intellectuals should have known better. It’s not provocative if you placing the cake in a celebratory situation. Now, if they were on the street and asked people if they wanted free cake, cut it yourself…that’s something else. 

  10. Reminds me of college art class, the whole “oooooh controversy” aspect of it. That minister, if she likes her job, shouldn’t have allowed herself to be caught smiling with the damned knife in her hand. Jesus, even Sarah Palin knows that.

  11. Why is no one talking about the obvious cultural gap we are seeing here? In the US we went through this a few decades ago and can identify it as a failed strategy for the artist and a mine field for the audience. In the more back-water regions of Europe they are just now getting around to discovering this. That is the frisson here. 

    Besides, what do Swedes got to do with genital mutilation in Africa? It is all about the artist making rep on the back of other people who are in real pain. Artists are the last people qualified to talk about, well, just about anything, except themselves. (and I am an artist) Not trained to be ethical, and not discouraged from self-indulgence. Art has its place, but not in the political arena. Unless the artist’s goal is to embarrass him or herself.

    1. It is fairly recently that the Swedish public noticed female genital mutilation due to noticable migration from Africa to Sweden starting within a generation and the mutilation were made illegal as it obviously is grave maltreatment. We now have awkward problems with finding and punishing the practice when refugees and migrants mutilate their children in Sweden or travel to other countries to get it done and then back here.

      It is worth a ton of bad press if this cake gets the message thru to one more parent that it is very forbidden, it can even lead to loosing custody of children to protect them from being mutilated.

      All kinds of female circumision is now forbidden including those that cut less of the feamle genitals then male circumission wich has lead to initiatives to also ban circumission of male children. The support for banning curcumission of male children is growing, mostly since we like children and logical laws. This initiative is unfortunatly also supported  by minorities who dislikes Jews and Muslims and want a ban to harass them which makes it harder to ban circumission of all children.

      1. just like a european socialist to react rationally and make sensible changes to the law. However do you fill your 24 hour news shows?

  12. It’s the Venus of Willendorf, yeah? Except for the head, which is the artist’s own special touch.

  13. Fantastic work of art. Offensive in just the way that it was intended. Mocking the fancy people, who don’t know how to react, so they just keep going in for another piece of cake and mockery. Also, it was said here at BB (not by me) that it is the responsibility of EVERY artist to fight racism. Well, here it is. Or… is it? Or isn’t it? Nobody know but Mr. Screamyhead, right there on the table. Personally, I love it.

  14. And now YouTube have removed the video (of an actual event, attended by a Swedish Cabinet Minister who spoke about freedom of speech) as violating their rules against hate speech – adding another layer of irony.

  15. Enough. Unless you have an art degree you are unqualified to say whether this is acceptable or not. As “the audience” you are supposed to be shocked. That. Is. The. Fucking. Point. Political incorrectness and allusions to historical racial stereotypes are acceptable territory of the artist because when society stifles or restricts the tools of the artist then the art suffers and nuanced commentary is impossible.

    I don’t expect most people, including the ‘spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association’ to get it but I do kindly ask them to understand their position in this interplay. They are the audience and they are supposed to be offended. If they don’t like it, leave. No one is forcing people to view or like this work.

    By creating any work an artist is not implying “this work contains socially acceptable imagery”.. Imagery is a tool, not an expression of moral correctness. I suppose those who wish to eliminate such depictions of Africans think we should just forget that this is how the “developed” world used to represent them. Writing over historical mistakes is an excellent way to ensure they will be repeated. Facing them and treating them as they are is a way we can ridicule those who still agree with them.

    It really disturbs me when mainstream commentaries discuss art because it usually says more about the way the dissenters truly view the world than anything else. I would posit that if you are offended by this then at some level you accept the black face, red-lipped caricature of Africans as accurate and that is shameful.

    Here’s a link for the vid from RT:

    1. No, Teapot. Unless you’re a victim of female genital mutilation you have no right to say whether this is acceptable or not, sweetheart. Otherwise you’re some rich first world art student trying to get attention just like Damian Hirst, Tracey Emin and all those other posers.  

      You’re usually right on the money, but you’re off your game here. Son, I am disappoint. :/

        1. I assume your comment was a response to me and I agree entirely with what you say. The thing is that what you are talking about is different to my point which was about the capacity of people to properly analyse art, not just make it or respond to it.

      1. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

        An apt comparison would be asking a lay person (or in the case of your idea: a victim of a rocket attack) to give their judgement on the design of a rocket. Sure they’d have an opinion, but do they have the context and experience necessary to say whether it’s a good or bad design? Nope.

        Obviously knowing how to analyse a rocket design is vastly more complex than knowing how to analyse art, but the bottom line is that a range of specialised knowledge is required to properly deconstruct things in different fields and an understanding of prior cases of public outrage at the work of artists really helps analysis of new work. Most people in the general public lack this knowledge.

  16.  I’m not entirely sure what the artist’s point is. Charitably, I think it’s about the interplay of privileges, that is, the racism of anti-sexists and the sexism of anti-racists. But I don’t know enough about the artist or the conversation on female genital mutilation in Sweden to make a judgement.
    This is ignoring the whole “he’s being an idiot” possibility, of course

  17. I see a lot of comments more or less based on a photo, and maybe an article. As a friend of the artist who did this, I can tell you that a huge part of his work the last couple of years has been about racism, inequality, prejudice and so forth.
    If you see this as racism, then I suggest you do some research on his previous stuff.
    Also, art is ALWAYS about context. If it’s done with a serious intention I think it deserves serious reception. When people discuss a photo (out of context) it’s really, and I mean it, retarded. Try to see the bigger picture, and if you after that come to the conclusion that you don’t like it, fine. But don’t make hasty judgments based on viral photos.

  18. I found this offensive and appalling. I could not eat from that cake if given the choice nor could I laugh at the concept. The message may have been lost. Visually instead of condemning the act of genital mutilation, it may actually seem supportive. All i can see is the woman cutting into the cake over and over in my mind. You have to be careful in how you present a message as sensitive as this. Never become desensitized to the plight of people, African women may seem so far removed from “1st world” countries but they are people just like you and I. When representing them and their issues, have respect. People are now distracted by different things. This is my honest reaction, I am allowed to express this.

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