Makode Linde’s “Painful Cake”: White People Eating Mutilated African Vagina?

That good art is purely subjective is a debatable idea in the arts community; particularly since a great deal of objectivity goes into creating insightful work that will appeal to the Arts and Culture community.  That aside, I’m not sure how much insightful objectivity went into artist, Makode Linde’s art installation piece, “Painful Cake”.

In an unsettling, macabre, seemingly sexist and racist depiction of Female Genital Mutilation during an April 15th World Art Day event at Moderna Museet in Stockholm; Linde purportedly decided to highlight the issue of FGM, by well, appearing  to mock the issue; insinuating himself into a cake shaped like a naked African woman, as the head. With his face covered in crude, Minstrel-y makeup Linde, who is an Afro-European man, yelled out in pain each time event revelers gleefully cut a slice. Swedish Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth kicked off the clitoridectomy by cutting a slice from the bottom (where the clitoris would be); smiling her way through Linde’s performance.  The artist and Culture Minister incited the ire of the National Afro-Swedish Association, who demanded that Liljeroth resign for participating in the spectacle…

“According to the Moderna Museet, the ‘cake party’ was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with ‘black face’ is unclear,” Kitimbwa Sabuni, the spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association told the The Local.  “One cannot see how it benefits those people to degrade them in this way with racist caricatures in this kind of mocking spectacle.”

Sabuni argues that the Minister of Culture’s participation in the event, which he describes as having “cannibalistic overtones”, shows poor judgment for someone in her position…

“Her participation, as she laughs, drinks, and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision.” He said. “We have no confidence in her any longer.”

In  (a somewhat patronizing) response to the outrage, that seemed to dismiss the National Afro-Swedish Association’s concerns, Liljeroth opined that the organization’s anger and disappointment was misdirected at her instead of the artist in question, and unwarranted…

“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. [He] claims that it challenges a romanticized and exoticized view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism. Art needs to be provocative.”

Makode Linde himself seems more pleased by the attention and conversations his exhibit has prompted, rather than it conveying the message he claimed to be trying to highlight, as evidenced by his Facebook page where he wrote; “This is after getting my vagaga mutilated by the minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth. Before cutting me up she whispered ‘Your life will be better after this’ in my ear. “

While art is indeed supposed to encourage discourse, I’m not exactly sure what to make of Makode Linde’s art installation, as I’m not familiar with his body of work or any recurring themes any of it is supposed to invoke. I will say that the image of a man, in Minstrel makeup, portraying an African woman and victim of FGM as a caricature for a predominantly White audience, is unsettling. Particularly since his message of awareness seemed to be lost in translation amongst the sea of laughing and smiling European faces; none of which showed any semblance of concern about the intended message of Female Genital Mutilation or its effect on African women. Perhaps the artist set out to intentionally evoke the lassez faire reaction from event goers, to prove a point. Either way, I’m going to go ahead and tick off the FAIL box in this instance.