Female Genital Mutilation as Interactive Art: “A Racist Spectacle”

Trigger Warning: Images and links in this post contain racist caricatures and explicitly reference female genital mutilation (FGM)

As part of World Art Day on April 15th, Afro-swedish artist Makode Aj Linde (pictured above) exhibited an art piece centered on female genital mutilation (FGM) at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Linde’s piece was a cake in the shape of a black female torso while the artist used himself as the head of the cake; the body included neck rings and Linde donned a cartoonish red mouth and white eyes in reference to blackface minstrelsy. At the museum, the Swedish minister of culture, Adelsohn Liljeroth, cut and ate the cake. Reportedly, white attendees laughed, joked, and took pictures as Lijeroth ate the cake while Linde let out a cry each time someone made a cut to the body. Photos and videos of the event have since made their way around the internet and been subject to ensuing criticism and backlash. Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, denigrated the minister’s participation in the event, calling it “a racist spectacle” that “simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden.” Nsenga K. Burton at The Root says that the minster’s “willing participation in it speaks to the perversion of power as it relates to race, gender and sexuality.”

The perversion of power doesn’t lie so much to cake itself as it does in the way the onlookers are able to laugh at it, which as Lisa Wade says at Sociological Images, indicates their privileged distance from the suggestion of genital cutting and blackface. This may very well have been part of the artist’s intent, to “trap” the white audience into making a mockery of the history of violence and objectification of black female bodies by participating in it. Objectification and hypersexualization of black female bodies is still present in today’s media, where images frequently dehumanize black women by likening them to animals or placing them in a cage.

Black female bodies have been long subject to mistreatment that frequently includes objectification and consumption by a white Western audience. Burton likens the interaction with the cake to the colonialist treatment of Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, often referred to as the “Hottentot Venus.” Baarton was exhibited throughout Europe in the early 1800’s, and though the slave trade had been abolished by this time, Baarton was treated as an object of both scientific enquiry and entertainment. Her body was made into a demeaning spectacle for the enjoyment of Europeans because of its perceived exoticness.

Liljeroth’s participation in the current heinous act demonstrates just how far we haven’t come as it relates to the treatment of black women’s bodies … The same way in which Baartman was put on display, dissected and figuratively eaten alive by the horrid treatment by her captors is reflected in Liljeroth’s mindless act.

Racialicious has compiled a roundup of media responses to the cake, including some interviews with the artist. The reactions are varied and worth reading. Some of these links also include video of the exhibition and more “graphic” images of the cake.

Minister in ‘racist circumcision outrage’ [The Local]

Voices: Makode Aj Linde And That Cake [Racialicious]

‘N–ger Cake’ Flap: Hottentot Venus 2.0 [The Root[

Black Face Racial Caricature an Cake: Raising Awareness About Female Genital Mutilation [Sociological Images]

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