Race relations are complicated these days, but here’s a tip: If you are eating a cake that looks like it was baked for a KKK banquet, even if you are supposedly eating it in some bizarre effort to draw attention to female genital mutilation in Africa, just stop chewing, put your plate down, and say, “I’m sorry, this is super fucked up.”
Sweden’s minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, ignored that advice on Sunday when she performed a mock clitoridectomy on a cake that was shaped like the torso of a stereotypical tribal African woman, complete with golden neck rings and sagging breasts, while a minstrel-faced artist poking his head out of a hole screamed in feigned pain.
The minister decided to feed her piece of the chocolate-covered strawberry cake to the artist, who later said that she whispered "Your life will be better after this" in his ear before taking a piece of the "genitals." The other guests, laughing and cheering, then lined up to take part in the mutilation, digging into the gruesome-looking cake with a sharp knife.
The party marked the opening of a World Art Day celebration at Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art on Sunday and was supposedly meant as a statement against genital mutilation. It was followed by panel discussions about censorship and artistic freedom, which presumably did not include a discussion on the topic of Damn, What the Fuck Was Up with that Racist-Ass Cake We Just Ate?
The so-called "genital mutilation cake" was in fact a piece of performance art by Afro-Swedish artist Makode Aj Linde, who later posted pictures and a video from the event on Facebook. The images caused a storm in Sweden, with the inevitable hashtag "tårtgate" ("cakegate") coined on Twitter.
Swedes have been shocked by the images of the delighted-looking Liljeroth and the photo-snapping crowd—including several young children—surrounding her. This, after all, is a country where a popular sweet, coconut flake-covered chocolate balls, no longer goes by its original name, "negerboll," meaning "niggerball." And even if you normally bitch about “political correctness,” it’s hard to defend something so clearly offensive.
The National Afro-Swedish Association called the cake party a "racist spectacle" and demanded Liljeroth's resignation. Then the Modern Museum of Art was evacuated following a bomb scare.
Of course, having been invited to open an event opposing censorship of the arts, it would be understandable if Liljeroth felt she was in a conundrum. But judging from the video it doesn't seem like she contemplated a more diplomatic approach. Instead, she comes across as clueless and foolish—and might have fallen for an artistic prank.
Lost in the outrage was the fact that the artist, Makode Aj Linde, makes work that explores stereotyping, attitudes towards black people, and post-colonialism. Getting a bunch of white people to cheer and laugh as a symbolic African gets mutilated probably made his point.