Over the past few days a YouTube clip of Sweden’s Minister of Culture slicing into a cake depicting the body of an African woman went viral. With each slice of the African cake woman’s clitoris, yes you read right, the piece’s creator adorned in black-face screams in agony as a mostly white crowd smile and eat away at her violated body. Needless to say this act of art was disturbing on many fronts.
First of all, given the long history of blacks and black-face, and white people in Sweden, the United States, Africa, hell the entire world, everyone should know that black-face is a symbolism of straight up racism. Add the smiles, screams and laughs of the crowd from this stunt and you have a good old-fashioned 2012 minstrel show. For decades people of African decent have been mocked, belittled and ostracized by whites through minstrel shows, particularly black-face. Popularizing the imagery of a simple-minded, watermelon loving, wholesome goofy black through these shows, as well as the famous Golliwogg Doll, white supremacists have pretty much solidified black-face as a trademark of racism. Naturally, there would be a wave of public outcry upon seeing this display of “artistic” work which I myself initially felt. But after taking a closer look at who created the piece, Makode Ai Linde a half African half Swedish man, I wondered if I 1. was jumping to conclusions and 2. viewed the creator’s ethnicity as an excusable factor to rule out racism. The issue was not as black and white as I initially thought.
According to numerous media outlets, the Minister of Culture is a strong advocate for racial equality. In a statement that appeared on Sweden’s government website she states that “as Minister for Culture it is [her] responsibility to safeguard the conditions for and independence of art and culture. At the same time, it is also [her] job to uphold the democratic values that counter racism, intolerance and xenophobia. …and that “art must be allowed to provoke.” The natural question that people are asking is was the piece art or was the piece racist?
Here’s the thing: I believe that before we can even answer that, we must first question the role of art in society. Is it to entertain? To provoke thought and highlight inequities that are taking place in the world around us? Free expression? Not to be taken seriously? Before we can even begin to staunchly call this piece racist, there must first be some sort of general consensus of what art’s role is in society. The problem is that it’s impossible to do that. To some, art is a lot like comedy. It’s one of those places where normally offensive behaviors, thoughts and views are more acceptable because they tend to provoke thoughtful emotion while entertaining. To others, it’s merely to be seen as entertainment and free expression. By no means am I excusing or labeling the incident that took place as acceptable or offensive. I’m just stating that at least for me, more questions should be raised before conclusions are drawn, and this is one of many incidents that show the residue of a greater issue that needs to be tackled. The issue that racial tensions and misunderstandings still exist in this world and can no longer survive as the elephant in the room.