Pictures of the Swedish culture minister cutting a cake designed like an African tribal woman has caused widespread anger and prompted one organisation to demand her resignation.
Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was invited to cut the cake, which doubled as an art installation, at an event marking the 75th anniversary of the Swedish Artists Federation at Stockholm’s modern art museum on Sunday.
The exhibit at the Moderna Museet was meant to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation, and Makode Aj Linde, its Afro-Swedish creator was part of it all with his head built into the cake.
When Adelsohn Liljeroth put the knife into the cake, he screamed “No, no!” from inside the installation.
A Swedish organisation promoting the rights of people of African origin on Tuesday called for the minister to resign for participating in a “tasteless, racist spectacle”.
“According to Moderna Museet, the cake eating party was intended to highlight the problem of female circumcision, but how this is supposed to be done with a cake depicting a racist caricature of a black woman … is unclear,” said Kitimbwa Sabuni, head of the African Swedish National Association.
Adelsohn Liljeroth described the incident as a “bizarre situation”.
“I was invited to speak at World Art Day about the freedom of art and the right to be provocative, and then they asked me to cut up the cake,” the minister said.
“I had no chance to inspect the cake beforehand … If some people have been offended, I apologise. Then it’s up to the artist to explain what he meant with his work.”
|Watch The Stream’s interview with Makode Aj Linde
Linde said the message of his piece had been misunderstood.
He has for several years used art to criticise stereotypes of black people and said that female genital mutilation as a choice of theme for the cake “was quite natural, as you would have to cut it up.”
“I think the people who have been upset misunderstood the intention or the agenda of me as an artist,” he told Al Jazeera’s The Stream.
Mariam Osman Sherifay of the Swedish Centre against Racism described the images of the minister as “deeply disturbing”, and said the art installation was “problematic”.
“In Sweden, it seems to be comme il faut to caricature Africans in ways we could never imagine portraying other ethnic groups which have been persectuted: for example Jews, Romani or Saami people. Still in the 21th century we haven’t dealt with the stereotypical notions of Africans that seem to have been passed on by heredity in Swedish mentality.”
Karin Olsson, culture editor of Swedish daily Expressen, wrote that the event appeared to be a “brilliant performance, in which the initially humourostic tone raised questions about power and colonial perspectives.
“Of course it would have been easier to do as PR consultants and nervous press spokesmen probably would have recommended: politely decline cutting the cake, to avoid tough questions afterwards. But such sterile politicians, who never take a risk, are not wanted,” she wrote.
The arts critic Dan Jonsson of the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter raised the possibility that Adelsohn Lijeroth had been “trapped”, and said that whatever the minister had chosen to do, it would have been “wrong”.
“Either she’d been accused of being judgemental about artistic freedom, or to express racism,” he wrote. “If this is the case, it was a skillfully set trap.”
Meanwhile, the museum was evacuated on Tuesday afternoon after a bomb threat over telephone from an English-speaking man accusing the institution of being “racist”.
Police with sniffer dogs searched the building but nothing suspicious was found.