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Pain cake
April 19, 2012 9:30 AM   Subscribe

The National Association of Afro-Swedes calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Roth after photos and video surfaced of this "living" cake, which was part of a celebration of World Art Day. The cake's creator talks a bit about the cake.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy (164 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Holy fuck! The blackface Eraserhead baby cake is just so wrong, I love it.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:34 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ted' Danson opened a cake shop?
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:36 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


i remember when discrimination meant discernment.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:37 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well That was... something. Also why a man's voice?
posted by delmoi at 9:37 AM on April 19, 2012


Meanwhile, most Africans have dismissed calls for Swedish Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth to resign following the debacle in which she was photographed eating a cake designed to look like a racist caricature of an African woman.

“The only people calling for her to resign are European liberals hiding behind a thin veneer of civilization,” explained Burundian sociologist, Descarte Tugiramahoro. “We Africans are not shocked in the slightest.

“All she’s doing is engaging in two ancient European rituals: giggling at people who look different, and symbolic cannibalism, as introduced by the Catholic Church. It’s all completely normal.”
Via
posted by infini at 9:38 AM on April 19, 2012 [32 favorites]


racism, sexism, genital mutation. this cake has it all.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whelp, that settles it.

I'll have the pie instead.
posted by notyou at 9:39 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


This is almost as bad as the Nogger Calamity of 2005. I honestly thought it would tear the Nation apart but somehow we survived. We survived.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:40 AM on April 19, 2012


That cake or Death?....hrrmmmm
posted by Windopaene at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Ugh. Needs warning for incredibly disturbing -- I could barely handle looking at the stills when this blew up all over the tumblrs I follow yesterday.

The white people smiling and laughing and eating the other and ugh ugh ugh I can't even deal with this
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


The white people smiling and laughing and eating the other and ugh ugh ugh I can't even deal with this

I mean, it's offensive as shit but it's kind of brilliant, right?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:42 AM on April 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


"Wait, this is the cake you were talking about? Um... I think I'll change my answer to death, thanks."

(On preview: damnit Windopaene)
posted by kmz at 9:43 AM on April 19, 2012


Yeah, what started yesterday with me seeing something about a "racist cake" and thinking it would be like a Gollywog cake or something ended with me retreating from the computer monitor, hands in front of my face, shouting "WHAT THE FUCK SWEDEN" repeatedly.
posted by Shepherd at 9:44 AM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I saw a still of this yesterday. I didn't realize that was a real human head. Wow.
posted by DU at 9:44 AM on April 19, 2012


Yeah that video is legitimately disturbing and difficult to watch (I saw this a couple days ago).

delmoi, the linked cake-creator is the person doing the screaming.

It was nice to see Mr. Linde talking about it, but I honestly didn't feel like it gave me a new handle on the whole thing. I certainly don't feel like I'm in any kind of position to demand anyone resign or anything. The fact that it was made by a black artist is definitely relevant, and yeah, the fact that it is so disturbing could be considered a mark in its favor. Or... something.

I dunno.
posted by kavasa at 9:44 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


....Um. Okay, if you're someone who (like me) hadn't been able to watch the video and is only relying on the comments in here to fully get what's happening, lemme add one detail you're missing (which I only found out after some "what's all the fuss about anyway" Googling):

The cake, and where you're supposed to cut it, was designed to be a protest against female genital mutilation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


"I mean, it's offensive as shit but it's kind of brilliant, right?"

so, it's OK?
posted by HuronBob at 9:47 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


But is it a cellular peptide cake with mint frosting?
posted by uncleozzy at 9:48 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


so, it's OK?

it's art, so yeah... offensive and brilliant is OK in my book
posted by nathancaswell at 9:49 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, it's offensive as shit but it's kind of brilliant, right?

Brilliantly offensive. Which I actually can appreciate. The idea of butchering and eating a living dysmorphic golliwog from the vagina on up is so insanely and thoroughly twisted, I can't help but laugh. Knowing it's a protest against female genital mutilation doesn't make it any less twisted, just maybe less gratuitous as shock value. That it has to be explained in context to make it OK makes me giggle even more, as maybe the artist overshot his goal by a huge margin.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:52 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


OK, seriously, I thought cakes shaped like purses and cartoon characters were gross but this, this takes the... well, it's starting to put me off cake.
posted by GuyZero at 9:53 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This ain't straight-ahead racism, or even a badly constructed joke. So, try to keep an open mind. There is a fairly serious and deeply engage piece of performance art behind all this.

As with most performance art, much of what you see on the surface is really, well, you.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:54 AM on April 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


This cake is disturbing. But the room full of people participating and watching don't look especially disturbed to me.

That's what rattles me. Not the cake. The reaction. There isn't a face visible in that photo that isn't smiling. A roomful of white folks who don't even have the damn sense to pretend they're not enjoying themselves.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 9:55 AM on April 19, 2012 [30 favorites]


metafilter: The idea of butchering and eating a living dysmorphic golliwog
posted by Greg Nog at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


That it has to be explained in context to make it OK makes me giggle even more, as maybe the artist overshot his goal by a huge margin.

Oh, I wasn't mentioning that to make it okay, for the record. I was just blissfully ignorant of the FGM angle and thought it was just a more "general" flavor of offense and didn't know why it was attracting as much fuss as it was, and that detail explained it all. (...And also made me make some kind of "eeeugyurrrrnghghhghhh" noise.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2012


Was just reading a good opinion piece on this at The Guardian
posted by the cydonian at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Feh, now this is a racist cake!
posted by Abiezer at 9:57 AM on April 19, 2012


That's what rattles me. Not the cake. The reaction. There isn't a face visible in that photo that isn't smiling. A roomful of white folks who don't even have the damn sense to pretend they're not enjoying themselves.

Totally. And I think that's absolutely the point of the work.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Or, if not the point of the work, the part of the piece that I responded to.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:59 AM on April 19, 2012


Thanks, the cydonian, seems The Guardian beat me to it with my opinion on Sweden.
posted by infini at 10:01 AM on April 19, 2012


That's what rattles me. Not the cake. The reaction. There isn't a face visible in that photo that isn't smiling. A roomful of white folks who don't even have the damn sense to pretend they're not enjoying themselves.

Why wouldn't they smile? It's a ridiculous gag that's intentionally over the top offensive, and thus difficult to take seriously.

This ain't straight-ahead racism, or even a badly constructed joke. So, try to keep an open mind. There is a fairly serious and deeply engage piece of performance art behind all this.

As with most performance art, much of what you see on the surface is really, well, you.


I think I vote badly constructed art. Hey, I like bad art! But maybe that's just me.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:02 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


man its awesome that this male artist is coopting the image of a woman's body to make shock art with, that's so awesome! racial issues aside.
posted by beefetish at 10:04 AM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sweden's culture minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth celebrated the country's World Art Day by visiting an art installation created to highlight the FGM issue. But, shockingly the artist chose to do this by means of a cake depicting a stereotypical black woman connected to the artist's grotesquely blacked-up face. The exclusively white audience cheered as the minister laughingly cut the cake around the "clitoris", and fed it to the artist.

This is so fucked up it made me laugh out loud.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:05 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Was it weird that my first thought after OMGWTFSWEDEN was hmm, I wonder what flavor the cake was?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:07 AM on April 19, 2012


This is so fucked up it made me laugh out loud.

Yeah, a startled cackle of astounded disbelieving hilarity was my first reaction. Now it's just grumpy nausea.
posted by elizardbits at 10:13 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


This cake is disturbing. But the room full of people participating and watching don't look especially disturbed to me.

That's what rattles me. Not the cake. The reaction. There isn't a face visible in that photo that isn't smiling. A roomful of white folks who don't even have the damn sense to pretend they're not enjoying themselves.
Oh come on. These people are all "arts" people. They've probably seen and had an overly-intellectualized discussion about every kind of "offensive" art ever. Plus, they would have been in the room with that guy for a while, and gotten used to it.

The other thing to remember is that people do tend to laugh when they are confronted by disturbing things. The fact they are laughing doesn't mean they didn't find it disturbing.
Was it weird that my first thought after OMGWTFSWEDEN was hmm, I wonder what flavor the cake was?
Um duh, chocolate obviously.
posted by delmoi at 10:18 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Further discussion.

"The minister of culture was making a joke about female circumcision, or rather clearly believed she was playing the role of doctor in a larger joke about female circumcision. The way it was engineered, she really didn’t have much of a choice. Being an art gala, there would have to be a cake, and as the most senior official in the room, Liljeroth would have to cut it. When it comes to cutting people’s bodies, senior government officials usually have other people to do it for them. But cutting cakes, that’s what they do. But cakes aren’t supposed to scream.

Faced with performance-art-as-trap, she could hardly refuse to participate, that would be an insult to the artist and the event planners, who are probably very good friends of X, Y, and Z very important people. So Liljeroth giggles and jokes while the simulated black body screams in pain as she mutilates it for the cameras and smiling onlookers. What she didn’t quite realize was the degree to which her own life would not be better after this."
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:18 AM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Actually, the Guardian article linked above is a very sobering read. After the first "WTF???", man, it seems as though Sweden has a lot of issues to get through in regards to racism in that country.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:20 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The cake, and where you're supposed to cut it, was designed to be a protest against female genital mutilation.

Instead it has turned into them making light of a very real, very serious problem through godawful racism.
posted by zarq at 10:22 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cake, and where you're supposed to cut it, was designed to be a protest against female genital mutilation.

I think there's something seriously wrong with this plan:

1. Protest FGM
2. ???
3. Male in blackface + sexualized cake + screaming + art.
posted by odinsdream at 10:24 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Tasteless.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:24 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


One thing that I haven't seen in discussion about this - that it's a bit weird that the major discussants of something that happens to and is generally perpetrated by African women living in African should be Swedes living in Sweden, most of whom are white. In a way it recollected the Kony thing for me - that everyone discussing the situation does so without requesting the thoughts of those directly involved and affected. That's as true of the artist as the women at the event. Ie, you can "protest" FGM as much as you like, but unless you're actually talking to the people involved about what they believe they're doing and what would have to happen for them to change, you're not going to get anywhere.

Admittedly, as a performance about white Swedes and their thoughts on African women and Afro-Swedish artists, it's pretty smart. And/or, as a piece on the way avant-garde work is...er....consumed. There's definitely a set of arts-culture norms about how to respond to this sort of thing, and in fact I'm not especially surprised that no one acted shocked - you're not supposed to act shocked in those settings, because it's hick. The question is, at what point should one's desire not to be hick be overridden by a desire not to participate in something kind of fucked up about race? When does that happen? Why is the bar so high in this arts community? What does it mean politically in the arts that there is a cultural expectation to act cool and ironic no matter what is going on?
posted by Frowner at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2012 [21 favorites]


Tasteless.

Nothing worse than a tasteless cake.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


That cake or Death?....hrrmmmm

I'll definitely have the chicken.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:27 AM on April 19, 2012


Teju Cole had, as usual, a thoughtful response.
posted by Bromius at 10:28 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Are the Yes Men involved?
posted by stbalbach at 10:29 AM on April 19, 2012


A black man in blackface, is that double racist or racist squared?
posted by Ayn Rand and God at 10:29 AM on April 19, 2012


Are you kidding me? No, I'm not eating any of your damn cake. You. Get out from under the table. Get out. Go. Amscray. I don't need horror cake to know that female gential mutilation is a Bad Thing. In fact, this fucking show you're putting on reduces the real horror to bad comedy. You're shooting yourself in the foot and taking millions of women with you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:30 AM on April 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


The way it was engineered, she really didn’t have much of a choice.

This is the part I don't get... white Swedish politician, HEY IT'S A TRAP fucking RUN AWAY!!!
posted by Meatbomb at 10:31 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Faced with performance-art-as-trap, she could hardly refuse to participate, that would be an insult to the artist and the event planners, who are probably very good friends of X, Y, and Z very important people. So Liljeroth giggles and jokes while the simulated black body screams in pain as she mutilates it for the cameras and smiling onlookers. What she didn’t quite realize was the degree to which her own life would not be better after this."
Eh, it would have been easy to say "no, this is just too weird I can't do it". That said, I don't think this art had any racist intent. It doesn't bother me that much, but I've been desensitized by the internet over the years
posted by delmoi at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's a thought-provoking piece, funny, shocking, absurd, and very, very frightening and serious all at the same time. it doesn't have to be just one thing. actually i think a lot of the piece's effectiveness comes down to that very mixture.

the fact that one aspect of my overall reaction to this piece was to consider it funny does not mean that i am racist, or sexist, or that i condone either racism or sexism, or that i am not shocked and utterly horrified by real female genital mutilation, or by the genocides that have been committed against africans by europeans, or anything else. sorry.
posted by facetious at 10:32 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Sweden has a lot to learn about issues of race. Immigration by people of color is a fairly recent phenomenon compared to even the rest of Europe, let alone the U.S., and so Swedish society's inexperience shows very badly. As I always say: Sweden is a very, very provincial little country. So Sweden has a lot of learning to do. Add to that the always present racists, as in any society, and it's not ever smooth sailing - let us remember, there is an active Neo-Nazi movement in Sweden, and where that can lead, just look to Norway and Brevik.

And clearly that inexperience and ignorance is on display here. The minister was completely caught off guard, and reacted very badly. But that is not to say that the situation wasn't challenging - what do you think should have happened? Should this performance art been banned? You have a black artist making a statement - to tell him "no, you can't do this, it's racist" borders on the patronizing. It may have been safer to tell him that. It may be even safer not to admit people of color into the country as immigrants, or in general try to restrict immigration, to avoid problems - like Japan does. It would have been safer not to have black artists - or any controversial art - associated with state sponsored exhibits. So it is a challenge. A challenge the minister here failed badly. But let us not pretend it's a simple thing, in a society that has as little experience with multiculturalism. I hardly expect this to be the last time we hear of some horrible failure like this coming out of Sweden.
posted by VikingSword at 10:33 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


it's a thought-provoking piece

You're right, it is though-provoking. My thought happens to be revulsion that someone could arrive at this and think it's good for humanity. I didn't magically find female genital mutilation to be more of a problem than it already is.

When someone pushes away from the table in disgust, don't mistake that for a lack of consideration. I considered it, judged it and found it wanting. Very, very wanting.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've been thinking the joke was really on the white people participating. It seems like that may actually be the case, according to this .

The cake is wheeled out and uncovered. The crowd stares, tittering nervously. The culture minister is placed at the crotch end, and starts cutting into the cake – when suddenly the head starts screaming in pain. It’s the artist, Makode Linde, whose own painted head is placed as the head of the cake. The crowd’s tittering erupts in nervous laughter; the uncomfortable humour of the situation, the classic Swedish fear of conflict, triggered by the surprise sound and movement. Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth tries to play along as best she can in what she sees as a “bizarre” situation, reciprocating the laughter.

And on the other side of the cake, placed in the narrow space in front of a glass wall, stands one of the minister’s fiercest critics, visual artist and provocateur Marianne Lindberg De Geer, camera at the ready. And she snaps pictures of the whole series of events, as the minister is egged into doing more outrageous things, performing for the crowd.

It’s of course no coincidence. The whole thing was carefully planned, a “mousetrap” as one Swedish artist puts it. And based on how much traction the picture of the event has garnered, it was a very efficient mousetrap indeed.

posted by oneirodynia at 10:36 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Faced with performance-art-as-trap, she could hardly refuse to participate

Any person that can't gracefully exit a performance-art-as-trap situation doesn't deserve their office. What happens when it's a real trap?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:37 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Any person that can't gracefully exit a performance-art-as-trap situation doesn't deserve their office. What happens when it's a real trap?

Another Swedish Culture Minister tragically killed by a hallway of swinging blades I guess
posted by theodolite at 10:40 AM on April 19, 2012 [38 favorites]


Well That was... something. Also why a man's voice?

That's the artist, who is a man. And who is a black Swede. And who apparently has something of a history of antipathy with the Afrosvenskarna, whom he feels do not appreciate his genius sufficiently, as he is "the only" black Swedish artist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:42 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


VikingSword: "But that is not to say that the situation wasn't challenging - what do you think should have happened?

What happens here in the US. Politicians have their staff screen state-funded art exhibits prior to events, so they're not surprised by a guy in blackface and racist caricature making light of female genital mutilation. They could have left the piece in and helped provide context to the issues it raises for the public in a sensitive way.

Instead, we have this.

Banning art isn't the answer. Neither is restricting immigration or censorship. But they could easily have used this piece as an opportunity to raise awareness, and failed rather badly.
posted by zarq at 10:45 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]



So, ummm....

The cake was a lie ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:47 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


What happens when it's a real trap?

It's not Edgar Allen Poe.

not yet
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:47 AM on April 19, 2012


Everything about this is insane.
posted by codacorolla at 10:48 AM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


My thought happens to be revulsion that someone could arrive at this and think it's good for humanity.

I think it's good for people to think and talk about why we are so repulsed by these images while essentially most People Outraged On The Internet probably have not contributed anything* to stop the practice of genital mutilation or continued colonialization/resource-sucking of Africa (if you want to get meta about it); why (as Frowner pointed out) the need for the art world people in the room to stand and laugh nervously in solidarity instead of protesting or walking out in disgust; the capability of performance art to provoke this sort of visceral response; the idea that people being very upset by seeing this sort of thing might actually mean there's hope for us as a species- perhaps. It's supposed to be upsetting, even though it's only a cake, and in reality this happens to little girls' bodies on a regular basis, every fucking day. Yet cutting a cake is what jilts people out of their malaise- why? Why not the reality of the situation as it happens in other parts of the globe? We should be asking painful questions like this and if it takes this sort of stunt to do that, I'm all for it.



*I wouldn't be surprised if there are people here on Metafilter that actually have worked on this very issue. My point stands.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


A small part of me is hoping that Cakewrecks weighs in on the issue.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that when an act of oppression/clusterfuck happens there is a tendency to find a person to blame - someone to put all the shame onto*. (Or a small group, or an ideology, but usually one person.)

When really an oppressive act is about the system itself - the system that pushes the culture minister and the various attendees into acting the fool, in this case. No one person is to blame; it's the ways in which everyone interacts, the unacknowledged social forces, the unconscious beliefs that push the group to act in a certain way. It's extremely unfortunate that the way in which we process this stuff most of the time is to try to expel the shame by pinning the blame on one person.

Seriously, if I were caught in one of those creepy performance art behavior-traps, I don't know what I'd do. Would I do something fucked up and be documented for all the world to see? Maybe. Would that be because I am a uniquely awful person and the performace-art trap revealed my previously hidden unique awfulness? I choose to think not, even though that's the way this stuff gets spun.

Racism is a collective failure, not an individual one.

*Occasionally one person really is at fault, of course.
posted by Frowner at 10:51 AM on April 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


this cake, I don't want to eat it or have it either.
posted by chavenet at 10:54 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Funny, I was just reading this same story over on Alternate Timeline Metafilter:
The National Association of Afro-Swedes calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Roth after she refused to engage with a piece of performance art by a prominent black feminist artist which protested the practice of female genital mutilation, during a celebration of World Art Day. The artwork's creator talks a bit about the piece.
posted by The Prawn Reproach at 10:56 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


What happens when it's a real trap?

That's a good question. Why hasn't Obama released his Prince of Persia speed run tape yet? Can we afford to have a president who foolishly steps on deadly pressure plates and pit traps?
posted by Winnemac at 10:57 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't have much to say about the work itself, but the Guardian piece is just silly.

"Clearly, Adelsohn Liljeroth participated and encouraged a crude racist act in her capacity as a government representative."

Really? The work seems to "clearly" be engaging racism as a subject. Why would the artist otherwise blacken his own face? How is participating in a work about race automatically racist?

But more than that, why is it that Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art, a major state institution, organised a spectacle like this?

Because it's art? Because that's what art institutions do, regardless of whether they're publicly funded or not?

"If I can refer to myself as a faggot then I should be able to call black people niggers"

Language and meaning are complex, and intentions matter, so how is this also automatically racist?

During the course of the evening, a slave auction was enacted.

This, on the other hand, was actually blatantly racist.

Racism is clearly a problem in Sweden, but this work is hardly indicative of the situation here.
posted by beerbajay at 10:59 AM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


What happens here in the US. Politicians have their staff screen state-funded art exhibits prior to events, so they're not surprised by a guy in blackface and racist caricature making light of female genital mutilation. They could have left the piece in and helped provide context to the issues it raises for the public in a sensitive way.

Sure, that's one way to look at it. Another way is to say that response is pathetic bullshit. Because really, the PR approach is pure avoidance. It's like the "clever" folks, who won't hire a black person at work, because "why take the risk that some shitty controversy comes with it". Sure, you've screened away any controversy, just as the U.S. politician does - that's how you get less interaction between people who need more, not less interaction. Sweden is rather naive in a small town way. Our prime ministers would walk around unprotected like ordinary folk. Then, the big world with big world problems knocked on small town Sweden's door. Olof Palme was assassinated. Whelp, security detail from now on. Sure, safer - but wasn't something lost? The distance between the politician and the populace increased. LOCK YOUR DOORS!

And so with the creep of PR everywhere. Don't make a move without screening. Is it safe to attend an art show, or do we need to put it through our greasy PR screen first? With the PR, it will be a lot slicker. No controversy. Problems will remain, but now under the surface. But guess what? NO BAD PRESS, HURRAY! Not a damn thing is better, except better "optics".

NO.

We need more than PR and screening and mealy-mouth avoidance. We need engagement. And unfortunately, with engagement, will come the occasional faux pas. It's a price we have to pay, if we want genuine progress. This unfortunate event, is better from my point of view, than the very same minister with better PR - because the fact is that she'd have avoided controversy, but still been the same ignorant and artless minister; at least this way, it's an opportunity, a teaching moment, if you will.
posted by VikingSword at 11:00 AM on April 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Whatever the intent behind the piece, the way its reception played out transformed it into something horrifying.

I keep typing up responses -- to people making jokes in this thread, to the conduct of the attendees at the reception, to the idea that only the oversensitive would take offense -- but you know, this isn't something I want to argue with the internet about. Besides, my voice and Opinions as a white American isn't really what this conversation needs more of.

So I'll just stand over to the side, feeling physically ill. And helpless. And hopeless. And embarrassed for being caught up in my own reaction, when it's not really about me at all. Like I just watched someone be hit by a car.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:04 AM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't have much to say about the work itself, but the Guardian piece is just silly.

I have to sympathize with the author, considering they went out of their way to demean him with that poster. Though the tone is almost unintentionally Onion-esque in that not only is he so attuned to racism in Sweden, it almost seems like Swedish racism is going out of its way to haunt him.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:06 AM on April 19, 2012


But let us not pretend it's a simple thing, in a society that has as little experience with multiculturalism. I hardly expect this to be the last time we hear of some horrible failure like this coming out of Sweden.

You have no idea what you are talking about. 20% of Sweden's population is made up of immigrants. The topic of immigrations and integration is a very hot topic.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:10 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Faced with performance-art-as-trap, she could hardly refuse to participate

Any person that can't gracefully exit a performance-art-as-trap situation doesn't deserve their office. What happens when it's a real trap?


Cool Papa Bell, you seem to be conflating the behaviour of the subject of the work (or one of us) with the work itself. Guernica was terrible, Guernica was a work of genius. The value of the work isn't "OMG FGM IS BAD". This works, brilliantly, as a satire on the issues of expropriation, titillation and violation that underlie Western relationships to Africa.
posted by howfar at 11:11 AM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


You have no idea what you are talking about. 20% of Sweden's population is made up of immigrants. The topic of immigrations and integration is a very hot topic.

On the contrary, I think I rather do, having witnessed the said immigration in the 60's and 70's. The point is not that it's not a "hot topic", it's that Sweden has historically had less time to adjust to mass immigration than many other countries, and that inexperience shows. The numbers you quote bolster my point. You have a small country that has had a HUGE influx of immigrants (by percentage to the population) in a relatively short time. Yeah, it's gonna cause adjustment problems. Heck, we have those problems in the U.S., which was BUILT on immigration from its very beginning. And the U.S. has had centuries to deal with this, not a generation and a half.
posted by VikingSword at 11:14 AM on April 19, 2012


it almost seems like Swedish racism is going out of its way to haunt him.

Oh, yeah; I completely empathize with him, it's just that certain arguments he makes are not very good. I actually work only about 5 minutes away from him, maybe I should drop by and say hi.
posted by beerbajay at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2012


VikingSword: " Sure, that's one way to look at it. Another way is to say that response is pathetic bullshit. Because really, the PR approach is pure avoidance.

No, I'm sorry but it's not.

They could have worked to raise awareness in a way that encouraged people to proactively address the issues and try to change things. Which would have been a hell of a lot more positive than a "performance" which dismissively made light of the women who were actually being mutilated by FGM.

It's like the "clever" folks, who won't hire a black person at work, because "why take the risk that some shitty controversy comes with it".

I did not say that we shouldn't address controversy. I am saying that there are more effective ways to do so than shitty, ineffective shock value campaigns. Assuming this is really about fighting FGM, what has the controversy become about? A resounding call for a Culture Minister to resign, because she took part in a racist display. So much for the importance of the cause at hand. So much for actually helping people.

Sure, you've screened away any controversy, just as the U.S. politician does - that's how you get less interaction between people who need more, not less interaction.

Once again, I did not say we should screen away controversy. I said it should be used more effectively. That's how you keep people targeted on what matters, so they don't get distracted by appearances.

And so with the creep of PR everywhere. Don't make a move without screening. Is it safe to attend an art show, or do we need to put it through our greasy PR screen first? With the PR, it will be a lot slicker. No controversy. Problems will remain, but now under the surface.

You're basically ranting against something I didn't say or imply here. I wish you had bothered to read what I had actually said, rather than engaging me in this way.
posted by zarq at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


the cydonian: Was just reading a good opinion piece on this at The Guardian.
That was a terrible op-ed, because it seems it, like so many are missing the point (regardless of whether the writer has apparently a personal history with some elements of racism and is thus touchier over this piece). But this work as mentioned above seems designed to be a trap, to be unsettling, and that isn't racist. It's a challenging thing to watch, as if they'd hired the "David Cronenberg Catering Co.". What it's not is straight up racism. We're so indoctrinated to knee-jerk react to supposed racist images/keywords, that we forget to look at the content. On preview, what howfar says about the difference between Guernica and Guernica.
facetious: it's a thought-provoking piece, funny, shocking, absurd, and very, very frightening and serious all at the same time. it doesn't have to be just one thing. actually i think a lot of the piece's effectiveness comes down to that very mixture.

the fact that one aspect of my overall reaction to this piece was to consider it funny does not mean that i am racist, or sexist, or that i condone either racism or sexism, or that i am not shocked and utterly horrified by real female genital mutilation, or by the genocides that have been committed against africans by europeans, or anything else. sorry.
This.
posted by hincandenza at 11:18 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I also agree with howfar's Guernica / Guernica comment. Also, an article linked by Teju Cole (previously linked by Bromius) does a good job of discussing why the conversation that the piece elicits is as much a part of the work as the cake itself.
posted by sendai sleep master at 11:28 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Though the tone is almost unintentionally Onion-esque in that not only is he so attuned to racism in Sweden, it almost seems like Swedish racism is going out of its way to haunt him.

I can understand this after my two years in Finland, next door and with a much smaller proportion of foreigners and population overall than Sweden.
posted by infini at 11:30 AM on April 19, 2012


They could have worked to raise awareness in a way that encouraged people to proactively address the issues and try to change things.

This sounds like the kind of buzzword laden corporate PR approach to problems we've all grown familiar with. Some nice phrases, but it all gets farmed out into vague future plans and fuck-all comes of it. But the crisis has been avoided - the bad PR crisis.

Instead:

Which would have been a hell of a lot more positive than a "performance" which dismissively made light of the women who were actually being mutilated by FGM.

I wonder. Maybe the shitty "performance" is more transformative than the slick PR call-to-non-acdtion. It got people talking. Which... maybe was the whole purpose of the piece? Maybe the piece was not "shitty" in that it exposed exactly what it was seeking to expose? Maybe more people are not talking about these issues, and more engaged than you'd have managed to get through a PR blurb about "encouraging people", "proactively address the issues and try to change things".

A BLACK MAN - A BLACK SWEDE, decided to make a piece of art. You say it's shitty. Maybe. But maybe the "shitty" form is not what was of concern to him, but what was of concern is the ultimate goal for his art: expose social issues. Not because of FGM, not much of which is done in Sweden. Sweden however would benefit much more from something else: focus on race and issues of racism - which he was pretty successful at. And just maybe, that will ultimately be more successful in pushing Sweden to do more about FGM internationally through an engaged populace.

The guy is an artist. Not a politician. He does what he does through his art. PR, by politicians, is of no interest here. The reactions of the minister, honest, naked in their ignorance - that is of value and interest.
posted by VikingSword at 11:31 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am saying that there are more effective ways to do so than shitty, ineffective shock value campaigns.

How do you know 1) what this piece was supposed to do, 2) whether or not it was ineffective? These are genuine questions; I'm not being snarky. Because from the article I read, one of the things the piece was supposed to do engage a culture minister who has previously steered clear on controversy and anything problematic -which interestingly, is what a few people in this thread seem to think is the way to raise awareness of FGM: safe and sanctioned and inoffensive means. I'm not saying that doesn't have value, but if you think that's the entire point of the piece I believe you're missing quite a bit of the intent of the artist.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


(...And also made me make some kind of "eeeugyurrrrnghghhghhh" noise.)

I haven't seen any of the images, but just the descriptions here made me make the same kind of noise the Empress did.
posted by rtha at 11:35 AM on April 19, 2012


Guernica was terrible, Guernica was a work of genius.

Did you really just compare this to Guernica?

Art may be subjective by definition. But there are still such things as apples and oranges.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:44 AM on April 19, 2012


I would, however, compare this to Duchamp's urinal.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:47 AM on April 19, 2012


I thought I'd seen it all, and I was prepared to be all "Meh" about this, but, man, that was so discomfiting to watch, I want to give the artist an award.

If someone had painted a scene of white people standing around a cake like that smiling and laughing, I'm guessing there would be no lack of dismissive comments about how trite and posed and artificial and heavy-handed and "art school reject" it looked.

That the artist actually made this happen in real life, with unwitting participants (as far as we know), moves it from "just" shocking to meaningful, in my opinion.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:50 AM on April 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


VikingSword: " This sounds like the kind of buzzword laden corporate PR approach to problems we've all grown familiar with. Some nice phrases, but it all gets farmed out into vague future plans and fuck-all comes of it. But the crisis has been avoided - the bad PR crisis."

Do you have any direct experience with the sort of efforts I'm describing? I ask because over the years I've planned and worked on pr campaigns that (among other things,) raised awareness on medical issues to the public. On cancers, reproductive issues, surgery to correct disfigurement and genetic defects, on cardiologic and neurologic issues, and a variety of other concerns. PR campaigns can indeed be incredibly effective. I know this because I've spoken with many, many patients who directly benefited from them over the years.

To repeat: what I am suggesting is not that we paper over, dismiss or ignore controversy, but rather use it in a more effective way to raise awareness and encourage action. In a way that would actually help the people who are directly affected by FGM. Which is pretty much the opposite of what you're describing.
posted by zarq at 11:52 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did you really just compare this to Guernica?

Why shouldn't I?
posted by howfar at 11:54 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


oneirodynia: " How do you know 1) what this piece was supposed to do, 2) whether or not it was ineffective? These are genuine questions; I'm not being snarky. Because from the article I read, one of the things the piece was supposed to do engage a culture minister who has previously steered clear on controversy and anything problematic -which interestingly, is what a few people in this thread seem to think is the way to raise awareness of FGM: safe and sanctioned and inoffensive means. I'm not saying that doesn't have value, but if you think that's the entire point of the piece I believe you're missing quite a bit of the intent of the artist."

I'm sorry. Which article? Can you link to it please? All I have seen was the videos linked in the FPP and the Guardian article linked by the Cydonian upthread, which talked about the work raising awareness for FGM.
posted by zarq at 11:55 AM on April 19, 2012


Guernica was terrible, Guernica was a work of genius.

Did you really just compare this to Guernica?

Art may be subjective by definition. But there are still such things as apples and oranges.


Comparing a thing does not mean they are the same. A comparison is a point of reference, not of value.



I would, however, compare this to Duchamp's urinal.


In what way? I could compare them by pointing out that Fountain, though never displayed or seen in person by anyone but a few artists, was a statement about the intent of a piece being much more than what it seems at first glance, as well as an indictment of the "art world" and its limited notions of what constituted art at the time.

zarq, I linked it here.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:06 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apologies VikingSword for my previous comment which was poorly written and aggressive.

I have written, re-written and deleted a more sensible reply but as usually on Mefi, I'm not sure what we are discussing or why. So I will just say that while Sweden has serious issues with immigration and racism, this fpp is badly framed and I don't think it should be seen as an example of racism in Sweden.

Maybe one day I'll make an fpp on how ill-thought-out policies, Swede's tendency to avoid conflict, an unprepared and far too naive welfare state, and turning a blind eye to unemployment and exposed situation of immigrants has resulted in waves of racism since the 80s. I think it would make an interesting post because so many people have this completely warped image of Sweden a perfect welfare state and democracy when in fact it faces many serious socio-economical problems like any other country.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:12 PM on April 19, 2012


A BLACK MAN - A BLACK SWEDE, decided to make a piece of art. You say it's shitty. Maybe. But maybe the "shitty" form is not what was of concern to him, but what was of concern is the ultimate goal for his art: expose social issues. Not because of FGM, not much of which is done in Sweden. Sweden however would benefit much more from something else: focus on race and issues of racism - which he was pretty successful at.

The folks at the Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund seem to disagree about the success of the performance art piece, and particularly about Adelsohn Liljeroth's participation in it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:16 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Foci, I'm looking forward to your FPP - not least because I myself have left Sweden in the late 80's and have rarely been back, so my knowledge of what's going on right now is pretty outdated. But what you write evokes many memories for me, especially "Sweden's tendency to avoid conflict, an unprepared and far too naive welfare state, and turning a blind eye to unemployment and exposed situation of immigrants". Due to my father's job, our family traveled a lot when I was growing up, living in various countries for extended periods of time, and on our every return to Sweden, I was always shocked by how provincial the country seemed, and especially, how things which were already well understood in the rest of the world, were only barely being addressed in Sweden and addressed clumsily with no reference to the experience other countries have already gathered (f.ex. drug use which exploded in the 70's). I kept thinking - Sweden is starting from scratch, why don't they try to benefit from the experience of others? Immigration integration was an especial failure.
posted by VikingSword at 12:25 PM on April 19, 2012


The folks at the Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund...

The author of the Guardian op-ed, "Jallow Momodou is a spokesman for the National Association for Afro-Swedes, and national co-ordinator for the European Network Against Racism in Sweden".

While they might have legitimate issues of whether or not the piece is "successful", and while they might have legitimate critiques of Liljeroth, the equating of "participating in performance art" to racism is silly and not helpful to the cause.
posted by beerbajay at 12:26 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow wow wow Makode Linde. That's really powerful. Horrible, but powerful. Did you catch the part where this black artist dude got the minister of culture of a Northern European country not only to represent but enact for the camera her (stuctural) complicity in the exploitation, and objectification of black bodies? He got her to wield the knife herself!! And plastered the whole freaking internet with photos of (presumably bien-pensant liberal) art-world types laughing at the mutilation that was simultaneously being shoved in their faces, disguised by the racist caricature the artist was appropriating, and excused by deeply-held (and I hope upon reflection deeply discomfiting) attitudes of sophistication and cultural relativism.
From where I sit, making the body "edible" (and dyeing the cake red) while putting a real screaming person behind the golliwog paint served as an remarkably effective deconstruction of both racism as such and of the aesthetic mechanisms we use to distance ourselves from our fellow humans, while savagely bringing home the visceral reality of FGM itself.
Of course it may well be impossible for anyone who's suffered such mutilation to appreciate its ironic representation, and I'm glad I'm not in the position of granting or refusing anyone the "right" to depict it. The culture minister lady got PWNed & is obviously going to have to shave her head and join a penitent order.
posted by jcrcarter at 12:30 PM on April 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


oneirodynia: " zarq, I linked it here."

That was illuminating. I was obviously unaware of the artist's entire agenda. Thanks for that article.
posted by zarq at 12:32 PM on April 19, 2012


Now Milton, don't be greedy, let's pass it along and make sure everyone gets a piece.
posted by porn in the woods at 12:44 PM on April 19, 2012


beerbajay, I'm a little confused by your response, but perhaps my post was unclear?

I meant that various people active in the Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund, including Mr. Momodou and the other people quoted in the piece I linked, disagreed with Ms. Adelsohn Liljeroth's participation in the event, and in the event's presentation, and in effect that Mr. Linde's choice of staging this performance art piece in this context was a useful contribution to the dialogue about race in Sweden, not that the leadership of the Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund disagreed among themselves about the impact of the art piece.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 PM on April 19, 2012


Sorry, I was just pointing out the (non-obvious) association of Jallow Momodou with the Afrosvenskarnas Riksförbund; that is to say that they are presenting a common response.
posted by beerbajay at 1:03 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't see this mentioned. The Cultural Minister in question has been vocal in her opposition to racism, taking away government subsidies for nationalist media espousing anti-immigrant views. warning: unnecessary racial slur in linked article title (couldn't find a better link.)
posted by Vhanudux at 1:09 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah! Thanks, beerbajay. I should have included that in mine. I appreciate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:19 PM on April 19, 2012


We need more than PR and screening and mealy-mouth avoidance. We need engagement. And unfortunately, with engagement, will come the occasional faux pas.

Yes. But that also means not demanding that people be fired every time a faux pas happens. Because if the price of a faux pas is losing your job, then people will do everything possible to avoid it, including not talking about or looking at anything that might spark controversy.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 1:25 PM on April 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


Lordy. May I make a suggestion, that comes from the legacy of William James? When confronted by something challenging, one might start by referring to immediate experience. Don't assume that this piece, or this event, or Sweden, is about anything, or is anything. Start instead with your own experience, and work outwards. As someone above said, in effective performance art, the first things you see are *you*.

Then you can delicately approach the difficult issue of meanings. No matter how you view this complex state of affairs, whether you interpret the work of art, the intentions of the artist, the reactions of the immediate crowd (who did not have the luxury of this reflective exercise), or the reactions of the Swedish media, or even the reactions of American bystanders, you are doing so from your point of view, and this particular hot combination serves to amplify that.

As a work of art, I salute this. It is dangerous, and in the complexity it evokes, effective.
posted by stonepharisee at 1:52 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


For me, the art isn't the cake, it's the spectators/participants, the cake piece is a tool or medium as much as acrylic or a brush would be. The reaction of those in the room is fully in key with what I would expect, a bit of tittering because it's a bit "bold", they realize you aren't supposed to depict people like that anymore, but someone else made this, and gave the okay, and it is thus sanctioned, and they are freed from any responsibility to question or react.

What misses the point slightly though, and I don't know if it's something the artist has factored in or not is how absolutely little knowledge your average Swede has about Blackface (with a capital B). I've encountered blackface performances on a semi-regular basis here, in mainstream. If they have somone portraying a black artist in some way it is considered normal to slap on some pan-stick. But I've also witnessed grown damned adults pull on a curly wig in front of 200 of their closest colleagues and ridicule immigrants. I complained to the head of our (public sector) organisation and was thanked for my feedback. I don't think people are as aware of the cultural history of blackface here. But I also don't think they give a shit.

Men det heeeeeter ju negerbollar!
posted by Iteki at 2:02 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't think people are as aware of the cultural history of blackface here. But I also don't think they give a shit.

Well I guess the alternative point is that in Swedish culture, there is not a history to be all worked up about. If I explained that in Somewherestan it was extremely offensive to blow your nose into a tissue, that this was a ages old symbol of oppression and blah blah blah... would that have any effect on American behavior? Should it?

The Swedes aren't hick, they just aren't from where you are.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well I guess the alternative point is that in Swedish culture, there is not a history to be all worked up about.

Again, the largest organization for black people in Sweden as a group, and several of its active representatives, have expressed serious concerns about the piece, about its presentation, and about the Minister of Culture's involvement with that presentation.

Mr. Linde needs to have the discussion of how well his art succeeded in critiquing racial stereotypes versus simply reiterating them primarily with his fellow Swedes who self-identify as black rather than lots of random people from other countries on the Internet, I agree, but don't overlook the responses from black Swedes who are not Mr. Linde.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:41 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The Swedes aren't hick, they just aren't from where you are.

Given the fact that Iteki is in Sweden, I'm fairly sure that the Swedes are from where she is.
posted by howfar at 2:42 PM on April 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


They kinda very much are from where I am, they're from Sweden. I however, am not from where they are :D

I'm not saying they are hick, I am saying that there is a specific area of ignorance (not knowing about the cultural background of blackface), exacerbated by a degree of privilege (not having to give a crap what some black fellas think), that makes me wonder if the artists aims in specifically using capital-B-blackface as a tool isn't going to fly over the heads of a lot of Swedes.

To expand on the example above. There is a word in Swedish that means "a black man", neger. The world is wide enough now that most people realise that nouning people is pretty shitty, and it's generally now the kind of word used only by racists and your grandad, but perfectly normal people will occasionally pop it out. Negress is also occasionally in play, usually to comment positively on a black woman's looks. Again, most people get squirmy, especially since they more or less know now that black people often don't particularly like the word, and due to exposure to American media making them associate it to the other kinda n word, but it's not really a dealbreaker. However, many Swedes will fight you to the bitter end for the right to call these oat and cocoa treats "negro balls". In a few shops I have seen them renamed to "Those", from people pointing and saying "Can I have one of those?" in order to sidestep the naming issue.

TLDR: my interpretation is that their inter-/reaction is the main thrust of the piece, but if that is based on assumptions of their understanding, then it risks falling a little flat, and becomes more a point-and-laugh than a cutting condemnation. I still find it pretty damned interesting. FWIW, I hadn't heard a drop about it until I read here, and I have a lot of politically active friends on facebook who should have been all over it. It seems to be picking up speed in the papers now though after the attention it's getting internationally. It's a couple of posts after the "bear shot after attacking a cow" entry on the website of one of the main papers.
posted by Iteki at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Funny, I was just reading this same story over on Alternate Timeline Metafilter:

The National Association of Afro-Swedes calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Roth after she refused to engage with a piece of performance art by a prominent black feminist artist which protested the practice of female genital mutilation, during a celebration of World Art Day. The artwork's creator talks a bit about the piece.


Pretty much this. There is almost no way she could have come out of this good once it was presented to her. Makode Linde should not be ashamed of his art, nor be unafraid to "trap" people with their reaction to it—it is good to be confronted with hard and revealing truths. But he could not have been unaware that the minister would have to do this in public, and that her job is dependent on her public standing. So yeah, I guess I'm saying that the minister is the one being exploited here, and I would be pissed were I her.
posted by Jehan at 2:52 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


So yeah, I guess I'm saying that the minister is the one being exploited here, and I would be pissed were I her.

But in the context of the topic and subject matter as a whole, its not really as clear cut, is it, about who is the exploited and who, the exploitee...
posted by infini at 2:58 PM on April 19, 2012


FWIW, I hadn't heard a drop about it until I read here, and I have a lot of politically active friends on facebook who should have been all over it. It seems to be picking up speed in the papers now though after the attention it's getting internationally. It's a couple of posts after the "bear shot after attacking a cow" entry on the website of one of the main papers.

Well, I see this on the front page of DN:

Tårtan som lett till avgångskrav.
posted by VikingSword at 2:59 PM on April 19, 2012


PLEASE PUT A TRIGGER WARNING ON THIS KIND OF THING.

Jesus Lord, it took me about 20 seconds to realize what was happening, and I almost vomited when it hit me... it was so incredibly graphic, especially with the human head moving around. I really, really, really wish that I had just never seen it. Please, I beg you, PLEASE put trigger warnings on this kind of stuff. Seriously.

I have no constructive comments about the actual cake. There is nothing constructive here that I can see. I don't care what anyone says about art, messages, sending a message, or whatever. I see absolutely no value in this.
posted by windykites at 3:03 PM on April 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I forgot to say; I don't CARE whether or not this specific thing is racist. That's a whole other issue. I care that it's horrifying, unnecessary, and being portrayed as "art". Making something shocking doesn't make it art.
posted by windykites at 3:15 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Making something shocking doesn't make it art.

It doesn't hurt.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:16 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't understand why we have to nerf-proof your world because you are thin of skin. Also, 20 seconds? It's pretty obvious right away.

Female genital mutilation does occur even today, among the many other horrors of this ugly, ugly world we live in. Adding "trigger" warnings seems pointless. Won't the trigger warning itself evoke in your mind a mental image of the thing of which you are so terrified?

Nausea and discomfort are the point. Watching him moan every time they cut the cake was awful, which is why I compared it to something from an early Cronenberg film. You're supposed to be horrified and unsettled. Pretending it doesn't exist, and relegating the "bad things" out of our minds, is not actually useful. And as a form of performance art to get people thinking/talking, it sure would be more effective than slathering a FPP with "trigger warnings" for those of more Victorian sensibilities.
posted by hincandenza at 3:51 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Making something shocking doesn't make it art.

No. But this is quite plainly art, and the fact that it is shocking, ugly and offensive does nothing to change that. But I'm not going to lay into you. What you're saying is essentially a more direct version of what many people in this thread have said. The number of people who really, viscerally hate this suggests to me it will become a well remembered piece of art.

I don't think I remember so many people truly angry at an artwork since the tabloid madness about The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Make of that what you will.

I also think it's really quite good.
posted by howfar at 4:17 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The piece/incident has morphed in my mind quite a bit throughout the past 2 days since I saw it. I'm still ingesting the implications, reactions and mixed emotions I'm getting from it, but I have to say: I'm really, really in awe of Linde at this point.
posted by naju at 4:50 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Guardian op-ed is twisting things a bit. Alexander Bard didn't want to use the word "nigger" but the word "neger". That is equal in value to "negro" . It used to be descriptive, and some people (like Mr Bard) claim that it should be considered value-neutral, whereas most of us follow the line that if black people don't like it, we don't use it.

Assuming this is really about fighting FGM, what has the controversy become about?

It's not. It's a trap to create the provocative picture of a bunch of white people - including the minister of culture - munching on a crying black woman. As a provocative piece of art, it was certainly successful. It doesn't have anything to do with FGM though, that was just the bait.

The trap was rigged quite cleverly, because it's a faux-pas for a minister of culture to pass judgement on a piece of art. She has been in trouble for that before, when she said graffiti made her want to puke and was strongly criticized.

In a way, VikingSword, I think you're right that this incident has to do with Swedish inexperience with racial conflict, especially that between black and white population. Since there isn't a long or strong local history of white-oppressing-black here, people don't feel they inherited a conflict that they need to steer clear of. As a result, there is not the same high sensitivity to racial symbols as e.g. in the US. What others have said about blackface reflects that - I learned about that here on MeFi.

Let me make a parallel: I sometimes see the term "Brown people" used here on MeFi, as a projection of a political opponent's thoughts, in sentences like "Yeah, I mean, it's not like we'd save any money by deciding to no longer wage undeclared war on brown people or anything". In that conflict - Republicans vs Muslims - you can pretty comfortably feel that you are on the good side merely by your political stance, since other than that you don't feel like a participant. Then you can take some liberties with what you say. Compare that with the "n-word" construction, which indicates that even a direct quotation or a discussion about the word itself can be problematic.

I think swedes sometimes feel far enough removed from racial conflict that we allow ourselves to be too relaxed in language and actions. I perceive the interface between native swedes and "Brown people" as more touchy than that between black and white though, just because a large portion of the immigrants to sweden have been from the middle east.

So anyways, the minister didn't hold her guard high enough, probably thought she could trust from the artist's word and blackness that the piece had an anti-racist or anti-FGM meaning. She had to weigh the controversial nature of it against the expectation to not be an art judge and made a bad call. The people who were there and eating cake didn't really "reveal their racism" - the artist played them with skill and used them to create a suggestive picture.

Men det heeeeeter ju negerbollar!
Heheheee!
posted by springload at 6:02 PM on April 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Guardian op-ed is twisting things a bit. Alexander Bard didn't want to use the word "nigger" but the word "neger". That is equal in value to "negro" . It used to be descriptive, and some people (like Mr Bard) claim that it should be considered value-neutral, whereas most of us follow the line that if black people don't like it, we don't use it.

Jallow Momodou, the author of the piece, is a black Swede himself. Do you think he was inaccurate in the translation he chose for "neger", or do you think he was purposefully being manipulative in choosing a word that has a stronger negative connotation in UK English than "neger" does in Swedish? (I actually don't know how profound the negative connotation of the word he chose to translate it is in UK English, and how it compares to the negative connotation of "neger" in Swedish, because I am a speaker of US English.)

This isn't a "Gotcha" question, so if it comes off at all that way, it is because I am expressing myself poorly.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:28 PM on April 19, 2012


What a fucking brilliant work of art.

The mistake was to cut the cake. All they had to do was not cut the cake.

Even then, once the cake had been cut the first time, and it started screaming, all they had to do was stop cutting the cake.

But no. No. They wouldn't stop. They kept cutting the cake. So it kept screaming.

Fucking brilliant.

As for the general level of discourse around the cake? Not so much.

Very little of the discussion about the cake that I've seen so far mentions the fact that the artist is a black guy who sees the work as part of his ongoing series about black identity. Even when this is mentioned, everyone seems to be in a massive hurry to point out that he's not a woman. Which indeed he is not.

SILENCE THE BLACK GUY WHO MAKES YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE amiright? How very dare he?
posted by motty at 6:44 PM on April 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I dunno; for me, I feel like the purpose of art is to change the way I think (even if temporarily or only a little), and by that metric - for me - this piece was very successful in that. There are so many meanings and cultural cosigns built into it, and I really appreciate how he doesn't just make the consumers of the work (literally in this case) part of the work - something that, though not done to death, is not as out-there as it once was, particularly because it's most often used in fun, interactive, pleasurable ways in lots of modern art galleries.

But here, he makes experiencing the artwork itself part of the work; incorporating your very own reactions and emotions into the piece, not just your emotions regarding the fake-woman-cake, but to the other participants in the work, your (my) identification with them as viewer of art, middle-class person, whitey, etc. Extending that to yourself, and your thinking. So many symbols and layers of meaning from something that is so deceptively simple.

I dunno, I really feel like this piece goes far beyond simple provocation, and I think it's a damned shame people in this thread and elsewhere are unable to get past that point. I feel like he's using provocation and the visceral response the piece engenders as a way to put the viewer outside their pre-meditated, conditioned response, to actually critique the "response-to-artwork" response as a valid response to real art about real things. The provocation is used a lever here to push the viewer into considerations - emotional and cerebral - that happen outside the "safe" space of the gallery and its associated context. In this way, it's not just a critique about race, but actually about galleries, art itself, and the way we consume it. So many levels.

I actually think it's a very sophisticated piece - not merely "clever" - and the awareness and intertextualityof it is something I really relish in contemporary art. I appreciate it when artists use our own responses as an integral part of the piece.
posted by smoke at 6:47 PM on April 19, 2012 [12 favorites]


Tl;dr He's not just making you say, "I feel un/comfortable about this piece", but "Why, not just aesthetically but morally, should I feel un/comfortable about this piece?" I don't think the specific answer to the question matters so much, per se, but getting people to ask and think about it deeply is an artistic achievement, imho - and one that's rarely achieved in gallery spaces. He makes you feel like the answers matter/have meaning. Good stuff.
posted by smoke at 6:57 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't understand why we have to nerf-proof your world because you are thin of skin. Also, 20 seconds? It's pretty obvious right away.

Female genital mutilation does occur even today, among the many other horrors of this ugly, ugly world we live in. Adding "trigger" warnings seems pointless. Won't the trigger warning itself evoke in your mind a mental image of the thing of which you are so terrified?

Nausea and discomfort are the point. Watching him moan every time they cut the cake was awful, which is why I compared it to something from an early Cronenberg film. You're supposed to be horrified and unsettled. Pretending it doesn't exist, and relegating the "bad things" out of our minds, is not actually useful. And as a form of performance art to get people thinking/talking, it sure would be more effective than slathering a FPP with "trigger warnings" for those of more Victorian sensibilities.



Wow. I'm not sure where to start. First of all, just because it was obvious to you right away, does not mean that it was obvious to me right away. I had a hard time wrapping my head around the entire thing. That's just my reaction, and I never stated that particular part of my reaction to universal.

Secondly, I'm not asking people to "nerf-proof my world". I didn't say that the video should be taken down, or that this piece shouldn't be allowed to exist. I said that there should be a trigger warning. Some people, including myself, don't wish to be exposed to this kind of media for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that it's apparently (though not actually) violent, and that it's retraumatising. I wasn't at all prepared for something so shockingly gory and horrifying, and if I had had a better idea of what the link was leading to, I wouldn't have clicked on it.

Asking for a trigger warning is merely requesting that people respect the fact that people should have the option to limit their exposure to specific types of input- this is the same reason that there are ratings on films; to allow people to make a relatively informed decision regarding whether or not they wish to be exposed to the media contained within.

Thirdly, a trigger warning is not pointless, any more than the warning of graphic violence in a movie or television show is pointless. A trigger warning can be as simple as Trigger Warning- graphic violence/racism or it could be more elaborate, but even a non-descriptive, yet detailed explanation of the violence isn't nearly as upsetting as actually witnessing the video.

However, a non-descriptive explaination of this installation would certainly gotten the gist of the video across to me. In fact, it probably would have done a better job of getting the message across to me, since I had to read a bunch of text to discover what this piece of "art" is supposed to be about. I didn't find the "message" or purpose of the piece particularly self-explanitory. Actually viewing it was not even remotely edifying, and it did absolutely nothing to alter my existing views or awareness regarding female genital mutilation. All it did was make me briefly aware of the person who created it- and that, I suspect, is the real purpose of this piece.

Fourth, I don't personally feel the need to be horrified and unsettled in such a manner in order to take an engaged interest in social, political, and human rights issues. I am already horrified and unsettled every time I read the news, and that's more than enough for me. I know that bad things happen. Believe me, I am very, very aware, and I am not stupid enough to believe that hiding from them helps; but I'm also not insensitive enough to think that wallowing obscenely in other peoples' co-opted horror for the sake of making a name for yourself does anything to better the situation, or the standards to which humanity holds itself accountable.

Finally (and most importantly), I find it really distressing that, rather than treating my distress with respect, you feel the need to ridicule and belittle it. Victorian sensibility? Because I don't like watching someone cut into the genitals of a screaming, writhing racist caricature? This is a little more extreme than the baring of a Victorian ankle.

And if the purpose of this installation truly was to provoke any kind of compassion for other human beings' pain and distress, it obviously failed with at least one viewer; you clearly have none for mine.
posted by windykites at 7:49 PM on April 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


*to be universal
posted by windykites at 7:49 PM on April 19, 2012


Do you think he was inaccurate in the translation he chose for "neger", or do you think he was purposefully being manipulative in choosing a word that has a stronger negative connotation in UK English than "neger" does in Swedish?

I don't know about UK English, though I would assume it's the same as for US English. But his choice of translation seems somewhat manipulative. As others have said, "negro" is a closer word to use for translation, with more similar meaning.

(We should still stop using it, of course.)
posted by ymgve at 8:14 PM on April 19, 2012


But this work as mentioned above seems designed to be a trap, to be unsettling, and that isn't racist. [...] What it's not is straight up racism. We're so indoctrinated to knee-jerk react to supposed racist images/keywords, that we forget to look at the content.

Labels, shlabels. From the piece:
It is difficult to see how women who are victims of FGM, or black people for that matter, can benefit from this contribution to the degradation and humiliation of black women.
Now, fair point on whether the artist himself is degrading /humiliating black women; I did think the piece suffered a bit for not pointing out upfront that the artist himself is Afro-Swede. But here's what I'm thinking: it would have become a "mousetrap" only if you find the whole gollywog characterization tame, wouldn't it; you really can't laugh in mirth unless the whole issue is a joke to you. And that trivialization is, whether you've been provoked or not, is absolutely and undoubtedly, racist.
posted by the cydonian at 11:06 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wasn't at all prepared for something so shockingly gory and horrifying, and if I had had a better idea of what the link was leading to, I wouldn't have clicked on it.

As the OP, I'd like to say "No." Unless something's NSFW, I'm not gonna tag it or rate it or bias you via my own filters of understanding or experience.

Asking for a trigger warning is merely requesting that people respect the fact that people should have the option to limit their exposure to specific types of input

You do have the option: don't click blind links.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:59 AM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


As much as I am impressed by this complex work, I have every sympathy with Windykites, and this response is particularly disappointing:

> Unless something's NSFW, I'm not gonna tag it or rate it or bias you via my own filters of understanding or experience.

The NSFW thing reflects little more than the paranoia in American media about women's nipples. That is the principal criterion, right? We can rank degrees of body exposure and some bunch of windbags have decided that the threshold between acceptable and unacceptable lies at the arbitrary point of the female aureole. It is also sometimes used to warn of material that some may find distressing for other reasons, in which case this would wholly have merited the tag. And still does.

Well thought-out trigger warnings instead reflect a concern for the sensibilities of the reader. They mean something. This post merits a considered warning. I would still have clicked on it, and enjoyed the work. Windykites wouldn't have. And we would all be happier.
posted by stonepharisee at 2:17 AM on April 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


NSFW is basically shorthand for "porn, or could be mistaken for it", though. It's not actually a valid warning as to whether or not something is acceptable for your personal workplace.

This piece is so tremendously unsettling to me that I've found it a useful element in examining my own preconceptions. I think it's worthwhile for that reason.
posted by dubold at 3:37 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


do you think he was purposefully being manipulative

Well, kinda. He's trying to advance a specific cause and using the tools at his disposal. Associating neger with "nigger" is convenient and effective.

Reality is a little more complicated, and he wouldn't get very far saying "neger is a word similar to 'negro' and 'nigger' but without the exact same cultural connotations, which is exactly what Bard was arguing about, but we take different sides on the specific issue of continuing usage of the term."
posted by beerbajay at 3:58 AM on April 20, 2012


Sidhedevil:

As far as I know (but I am no native English speaker), "nigger" sounds no sweeter in the UK than in the US. It appears to me to be misleading on purpose, unless of course Mr Bard has advocated the use of "nigger" someplace I'm not aware of. In that case I doubt we'd still see him on TV entertainment shows though. There are some more things worth commenting on about the Guardian text:

The mock slave auction took place at something like a frat house, at a costume party with a "jungle" theme. The posters were made by an artist called Dan Park, who apparently had some prior beef with Jallow but had no relation to the party organizers. He put the contact details of the frat house on the "negro slave" poster and intended that as a commentary piece on the auction event. He has a history of works that are very provocative and over-the-top in all directions, and for this one he was prosecuted and sentenced for hate-speech. The whole thing was covered extensively in national media.

In the public debate about the Malmö shootings, I don't think anyone made a secret of the fact that they were racially motivated, and the media coverage was very intense. The shooter has Asperger's syndrome, has been arrested since November 2010 and is up for prosecution in May.

It is true that Sweden took part in the slave trade - there were no slaves in Sweden proper after the fourteenth century, but the Swedish king bought an island with 5000 people from the French, and Swedish merchants traded slaves from there to other countries.
posted by springload at 3:59 AM on April 20, 2012


And if the purpose of this installation truly was to provoke any kind of compassion for other human beings' pain and distress, it obviously failed with at least one viewer

I don't think it primarily is. I think the work is, among other things, about the way in which reactions to distress are inhibited and normalised by social and cultural setting. If you are in a room with a grotesquely ugly work, does it take social shame, practical coercion, racism, artistic snobbery, pretension, mere familiarity or what to bring you to the point of interacting with it at the level we see in this clip? The response that says all the people in the room are just bad racists is probably the least accurate, least interesting and least illuminating response that one could have.

The reason that some people are getting angry is, I suspect, that a lot of very simplistic and unproductive readings of the work are being defended with maximum righteousness in this thread. This is tending to drown out the possibility of a slightly more complex discussion of the work, its effect and its social and cultural setting, both in Sweden and internationally.
posted by howfar at 4:34 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


the way in which reactions to distress are inhibited and normalised by social and cultural setting.

that's an interesting point. From that perspective, it's interesting to me that, here and elsewhere, there are some people who are vehemently opposed, defensive, and even aggressive towards reactions of distress. I wonder how much that attitude inhibits the horrified reactions of others- not just with this specific piece, but as a general life rule. And I wonder how much that inhibition harms our ability to be compassionate creatures.
posted by windykites at 5:04 AM on April 20, 2012


I would like to suggest that there be a MetaTalk conversation on filtering possibly harmful information and its appropriate taxonomy.

With regard to the conversation on words in the UK and the Nordic countries that may have negative connotations which may not be realized, I do have an experience to share. Finland is not Sweden as they'll be the first to inform you but the situation is similar enough for a comparison.

The word "coolie" is often used as a pejorative for South Asians, as much as the variations on the "n" word mentioned above and as can be seen by the meaning, for similar reasons. I came across its usage in a Finnish (not quite government department but certainly state funded institution) report on future potentials with India. The report had been written by a UK based thinktank and the title of the section was "From coolies to creatives". I was quite taken aback not only by its usage but since they happened to quote me by name within that section, felt a personal stake in the matter. When I brought it up with my local colleagues, they were perplexed and incomprehending of why my feathers should be so ruffled - knowing neither the word or its complicated history with the British colonial era in India (and thus, their coolies)

So, reflecting on my experience and referring to this conversation on translations and word choices, for example:

Do you think he was inaccurate in the translation he chose for "neger", or do you think he was purposefully being manipulative in choosing a word that has a stronger negative connotation in UK English than "neger" does in Swedish?

I don't know about UK English, though I would assume it's the same as for US English. But his choice of translation seems somewhat manipulative. As others have said, "negro" is a closer word to use for translation, with more similar meaning.

(We should still stop using it, of course.)


I would say that accuracy or manipulation may have little to do with so much as a desperate attempt to communicate the shock and pain of the casual use of such a loaded and pejorative word for one's ethnic origin.
posted by infini at 5:05 AM on April 20, 2012


I would say that accuracy or manipulation may have little to do with so much as a desperate attempt to communicate the shock and pain of the casual use of such a loaded and pejorative word for one's ethnic origin.

But the thing is that it's not loaded for most Swedes. It might be that some Swedish Africans might feel it is loaded, but for a lot of Swedes the debate about the word is more "politically correct gone overboard". Like I said earlier, it's closer to "Negro".

If someone really wanted to use a derogatory term for Africans, they would use "blatte" or "svarting" instead, which are much worse words than "neger".
posted by ymgve at 6:21 AM on April 20, 2012


I don't know if he's being purposefully manipulative, per se, but I would say he is definately trying to convey how he hears the word. As a white, non-native Swedish speaker I probably shouldn't be even trying to weigh in on this, but I would say that neger is possibly an even more objectionable word for a person of colour than the officially more pejorative svarting, since there's a good chance of it popping out of people on a semi-regular basis. I don't think I've ever heard the word svarting used outside of films about nazis. I've heard neger thrown around as a pejorative plenty though. For context the guy I know who voted for the far right party here uses the word neger, but probably wouldn't use the word svarting.

On preview ymgve is kinda making the point; many-to-most white Swedes fine the term neger to be neutral, and because that's how they feel, that is the answer. That Swedes who are black, or indeed just people in general who are in black, finding the term to be as close an equivelant to nigger as the language allows is irrelavant. FTR, I think about 90% of Swedes would have a bit of an instant mental whiplash at the concept of black Swedes.
posted by Iteki at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2012


But the thing is that it's not loaded for most Swedes.

Exactly. I mean, I understand that - a word can have absolutely no meaning to one culture and yet mean something else in another. It would be too easy to say ok, we have a cross cultural communication problem and so we should suck it up and accept it - I pondered this aspect during my tenure in Finland - but the other side of the same coin is that as we increasingly live in more multicultural environments, we do need to increase awareness and sensitivities for the better, going forward.

To put it in context, last year, just before I left Finland, there was a seminar on trust/business relationships and the facilitator asked the audience (university staff, students, faculty) if they felt xenophobia to be a barrier to trust. Every single non Finn's hand shot up immediately.

Can then we continue to keep saying "but this means nothing to us"?
posted by infini at 6:30 AM on April 20, 2012


That Swedes who are black, or indeed just people in general who are in black, finding the term to be as close an equivelant to nigger as the language allows is irrelavant.

That.

That hurts.
posted by infini at 6:33 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


the casual use of such a loaded and pejorative word for one's ethnic origin

Let me expand a bit: The word "neger" really translates directly to "negro", and it didn't start to be loaded until (I'm guessing/estimating) 20-30 years ago. It used to be like "jew" or "black" are today. It started to acquire pejorative value after "negro" was phased out from English, I guess partly as a function thereof and partly because it was used in descriptions of black people that were racist in the way many old texts are.

The right-wing people Iteki talks about are most likely using it because it's sooort of possible to get away with it. At least it can still be debated by a public person (like Alexander Bard, known to be controversial on many issues and "anti-political correctness", but not outright racist) that there is no reason to consider it pejorative. I suppose Iteki's racist guy would just love to have that discussion with somebody who feels offended. If he'd said "svarting", "nigger" or "blatte", that's game over - those are really outright racist and have never been anything else. Of course, the unacceptableness of "neger" has increased since more and more regular people steered away from it while racists kept using it.

But going from "neger" to "nigger" is not just a matter of interpretation or personal feeling, it is a misleading translation.
posted by springload at 8:16 AM on April 20, 2012



But going from "neger" to "nigger" is not just a matter of interpretation or personal feeling, it is a misleading translation.

I see your point here and it makes sense. However, just to take that thought further from your own comment, if increasingly people use the word neger to replace (and/or push the envelope of stronger words) then would it not continue to gather increasingly negative implications and thus load itself?
posted by infini at 8:21 AM on April 20, 2012


YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST


said what seems like the only black woman in this goddamn thread.
posted by liza at 9:35 AM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE RACIST INTENT TO BE RACIST

I don't think anybody's really questioning that. Liljeroth is probably racist in all of the ways you'd expect of a privileged white Swede, but her participation in the art/trap in itself is not really a valid indicator of that racism just because the piece uses racist iconography.
posted by beerbajay at 9:58 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


many-to-most white Swedes fine the term neger to be neutral, and because that's how they feel, that is the answer. That Swedes who are black, or indeed just people in general who are in black, finding the term to be as close an equivelant to nigger as the language allows is irrelavant.

I would suggest that white Swedes finding black Swedes' reaction to a word being used to describe them (the black Swedes) "irrelevant" is probably a really serious problem from the perspective of the black Swedes.

Again, no personal skin in this game, but it seems to me that people have a right to object to being described by others in ways they find offensive.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


but what about Linde, the artist, AND HIS INTERNALIZED COLONIAL RACISM & MISOGYNY.

we have to take to task the light-skinned middle-class european black man creates a grotesquerie of a black african savage woman to co-opt the female genital mutilation as a cause, only so he can have his "ha-ha white Swedish people are racist" picture perfect moment.

that is some bullshit right there.
posted by liza at 10:28 AM on April 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


just so that am clear: LINDE, A BLACK MAN, IS AS MUCH A RACIST & MISOGYNIST COLONIZER OF THE MYTHOLOGY OF AFRICA AND BLACK AFRICAN WOMEN AS THE WHITE PEOPLE HE SEEKS TO UNMASK AS RACIST.

because the piece ultimately isn't about female genital mutilation or africa or african women or racism or even misogyny. this piece, like much of the crap that passes as political art, ends up being about the artist himself, about how clever he was to pull this stunt off.

am from the aesthetics school of thought that for a work to be truly transgressive it has to surpass the limitations of the subject matter it's addressing; meaning, it has to take the reader into the realm of epiphany and the sublime. even Bataille, who was against theology, would have said that for art to be truly transgressive, it has to engage the reader/viewer in an experience that, from a communications PoV, it's eucharistic and sacral. Meaning, art should be more like communion and less like just some kind of aesthetic communication.

so, no. Linde's black skin doesn't get him off-the-hook.
posted by liza at 10:48 AM on April 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


liza: " we have to take to task the light-skinned middle-class european black man creates a grotesquerie of a black african savage woman to co-opt the female genital mutilation as a cause, only so he can have his "ha-ha white Swedish people are racist" picture perfect moment. "

Per oneirodynia's link, apparently the caricature "golliwog"image the artist used is one that frequently shows up in his art, as a representation of black people, and their marginalization in Sweden.

I find his symbolic use of FGM here rather galling, honestly. But it doesn't look like the caricature is out of character for him.
posted by zarq at 10:49 AM on April 20, 2012


The irony of the entire matter is that I've met ladies (in fact, many years ago was roomies with someone with full FGM) recently who have all gently implied that the situation is changing, perhaps slower than some would like (cultural transformations aren't political revolutions) but much of the media grabbing aspect of FGM's popularity is more politically motivated and laden with agendas than they themselves (who work against it in their own communities) would like.
posted by infini at 11:03 AM on April 20, 2012


does his work surpass the limitations of the subject matter he addresses and ultimately engages the viewer/reader into a communion-like experience? if the answer is no, as with this cake piece, IT IS NOT ART.

what Linde created with the cake is KITSCH.

Linde has taken basically the thesis of Bataille's "On Erotism" and basically painted by the numbers. huge in that book is the deconstruction of cannibalism and how it permeates european culture.

Linde took every motif of previous artworks dealing with transgression, erotism & the sublime, half-baked them into a cake and called it art. the problem is, the work stays on the motif of racism & misogyny without overcoming them.

hence, kitsch.
posted by liza at 11:07 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The NSFW thing reflects little more than the paranoia in American media about women's nipples. That is the principal criterion, right?

I suppose it is for some. But it can also be language (for instance, audio with words not appropriate for workplace). It could also mean penises. It has nothing to do with "paranoia", to me. There have been people fired from their workplaces for viewing nude pictures on their computers. I believe it happened to at least one MeFite. That's why I include the warning, because I don't want to be responsible for someone losing their job. It has nothing to do with me, myself, having an issue with any of these things.

Well thought-out trigger warnings instead reflect a concern for the sensibilities of the reader. They mean something. This post merits a considered warning. I would still have clicked on it, and enjoyed the work. Windykites wouldn't have. And we would all be happier.

No, sorry. I would not be happier. It may sound ridiculous but I post here because I like to share things the way I like to share them, which may or may not be the way you like them shared with you. It's like the process of giving a present. Some people ask friends and family for Christmas lists. I don't. I give them what I want to give them. You don't get to dictate what or how other people share with you. Your side of the equation rests in whether you choose to click the link or not. Believe it or not, I don't care which option you choose. I'm aware that this displeases some people. I'm fine with that. I'm aware that some people think this is asshole-ish behavior. I'm fine with that, too.

This isn't a video of FGM. It isn't a rape. This is a cake. This is an art piece that is rather thought-provoking if the thread is any indication.

I wanted viewers of the video to experience the cake the same way the people at the gathering did--they didn't know what was beneath the veil and neither did you. Someone was disturbed? Good, that's the point. However, if you're someone who gets disturbed by art and don't understand or appreciate that that's the point then don't click blind links on the internet. Some people who provide them do so because it pleases them; it's not mandatory that it pleases you.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 11:47 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


does his work surpass the limitations of the subject matter he addresses and ultimately engages the viewer/reader into a communion-like experience? if the answer is no, as with this cake piece, IT IS NOT ART.

I, for one, am glad that is settled and now beyond the realm of debate. I must have missed the memo.

On the other hand...no, that's not right, the notion that art is something other than a cultural practice defined only by shifting norms and expectations is utter bunk.

Isn't shouting at each other much more fun than engaging in discussion?
posted by howfar at 12:03 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This isn't a video of FGM. It isn't a rape. This is a cake. This is an art piece that is rather thought-provoking if the thread is any indication.

This is a cake which looked graphically like a female torso, and the "art piece" included an audible scream upon the cutting of the cake.

A "trigger warning" seems abhorrent to you; I accept your position on abstaining from that practice. But I also note that the FPP didn't include a "nsfw" warning, and the adding of a NSFW tag is itself a somewhat more widely-encouraged practice. Perhaps we could compromise and have a NSFW warning instead?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:04 PM on April 20, 2012


That's up to the mods. I felt it safe for work, but I'm not offended if they add one.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 12:16 PM on April 20, 2012


Perhaps it would be best if y'all took the trigger derail to meta? Just a suggestion.
posted by zarq at 12:30 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


liza: " Linde took every motif of previous artworks dealing with transgression, erotism & the sublime, half-baked them into a cake and called it art. the problem is, the work stays on the motif of racism & misogyny without overcoming them. "

He's making a statement about race relations in Swedish society, and has brought the subject into a spotlight. Problems with his presentation aside (and I totally agree with you that there are serious problems with the way this is being presented,) isn't the end result just as important?
posted by zarq at 12:39 PM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just realized that one can make a strong case for both sides of the argument, zarq, in answer to your question. However, one observation remains... the US has had a long history of civil rights activism and thus, a language and heritage for this discussion. Where, if indeed, these matters are considered irrelevant, in Sweden, he might have just had to be as bumptiously crude as possible to even evoke any level of outrage or embaressment. Witness the absolute lack of understanding on the power of words and labels (with all due respect to all the reasons given above in this thread.)
posted by infini at 12:56 PM on April 20, 2012


He's making a statement about race relations in Swedish society, and has brought the subject into a spotlight. Problems with his presentation aside (and I totally agree with you that there are serious problems with the way this is being presented,) isn't the end result just as important?

Once again, the critiques of the Afrosvenskarnas Riksforbund as a group, and its members individually, seem important to foreground.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:59 PM on April 20, 2012


I don't think this is making light of Female Genital Mutilation at all. I thought it was quite an inspired and thought provoking artwork.

What exactly would you say is an appropriate way to tackle such and issue in art then?
posted by mary8nne at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I give them what I want to give them

Seriously? Without regard for whether or not it's something they would actually want or appreciate? That's so selfish... it totally defeats the point of gift-giving. Why do you bother to gift at all?
posted by windykites at 5:17 PM on April 20, 2012


Sidhedevil: I would suggest that white Swedes finding black Swedes' reaction to a word being used to describe them (the black Swedes) "irrelevant" is probably a really serious problem from the perspective of the black Swedes.

Just for the sake of extra clarity, that was me being bitter, not my own opinion. Swedes are a lot more conservative than people think, and indeed than they themselves thing, and yes, Vikingsword, that has changed quite radically in the past 20 years. The guardian piece touches on it, the concept of Swedish exceptionalism, is absolutely spot on. Sweden's image of itself and the actuality of how Sweden acts are quite far apart.

Sweden is a neutral country and a champion of democracy!
Sweden is one of the main exporters of weaponry in the world, has been for decades, supplied Germany with ore and rail access to Norway in WWII.

Sweden is ahead of the curve when it comes to sexuality!
Sweden equalised gay marriage years after both Spain and South Africa. Sweden has forced sterilization of transsexual people, and refuses them the right to store their eggs/sperm.

Sweden doesn't have any racist skellingtons in the closet, not like America or the UK.
Slavery was abolished in the 1840's, and was active in the slave trade from about the 1650's. The Swedish Institute of Racial Biology was never actually shut down, just got kind of absorbed into Uppsala University. Sweden performed forced sterelization of undesirables up into the mid 1970's. 1970's.

It's important that smaller countries, (like any other minority) are treated as whole essences with good and bad, rather than just having their actions viewed and judged through a minimising stereotype. The idea that Swedes can't be racist because, ohay, they are all liberal and peaceniky and birkenstocky and shit is offensive and quite prevelant. Like people who go to Ireland and take no precautions against being stabbed and robbed by junkie children because "the old country" is so quaint, and sure to be full of old men in pipes and woolly jumpers.

Am slightly off topic of the artwork I realise. Am asking a friend who is I think actually in the AfroSwede group if I can quote her comments on it from another forum.

This isn't meant to be a screed against Sweden, I live here (mainly) by choice, and am grateful for what I have gained access to. However, I have also contributed as much if not more as Swede my age, and feel fully entitled to criticize as well as praise.
posted by Iteki at 4:07 AM on April 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


windykites, there's a section called MetaTalk, where threads on etiquette and appropriate behaviour are created so that such topics can be discussed in a suitably focused manner, away from the front page conversations usually relating to the content of the links posted. Your observations are valid and useful and would be better discussed over there than lost in this thread.
posted by infini at 4:36 AM on April 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is really interesting to take part in this discussion, and I'm thinking through these things a lot more than I otherwise would.

So for some background, immigrants to Sweden have come from many different regions: From Iran during the Iran-Iraq war; from the Balkans during the war there; from Somalia, and from Iraq as a function of the US-Iraqi war, and many others as well. As a result, the major dividing line in society is not ethnic - as in the US - but goes between native-white-swede and immigrant.

Also, since the black population in Sweden is a small fraction of the total immigrant population, and has arrived relatively recently (mostly in the last 20 years), there doesn't seem to be as strong an afro-swedish identity as e.g. the afro-american one. People still identify with their country and culture of origin more than by being black. So for example, many black people here are Somalian muslims, which is different from being a Christian from Burundi.

So, whether Afrosvenska Riksförbundet represents most black swedes, I do not know, but the opinions they express definitely need to be taken seriously. That is what has happened and what has made this story so big: If their representatives had been ignored or been positive to the work, this wouldn't have made international news. As the comments in this thread reflect, opinions about the art itself varies a lot, and I don't get the impression that the line between likers and dislikers follows the line between black and white or racist and non-racist. Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund don't have exclusive rights to judge the art, but their opinion certainly carries a lot of weight in the debate.

As a white swede, I'm of course walking on thin ice criticizing them and Momodou, and I'd be interested to hear what Iteki's friend who is a member has to say. The Guardian piece gives me the impression that Momodou misrepresents reality in order to support his outrage though.

We have the "neger/negro/nigger" issue (and again, if Alexader Bard advocated the use of "nigger" elsewhere, I will of course retract what I have said about that).

But also, that article gives the impression that racist deeds go unnoticed in Sweden, and that isn't the case at all. The "slave auction" was not officially organized, but there were three stupid students who dressed as slave owner and slaves, doing the auction in a back-room of the party. Other guests were of course outraged and (this is key) the incident made it to all national news outlets and was universally condemned. I heard Momodou on the radio at that point, and got the impression that he drew quite far-reaching conclusions from the incident. After that Dan Park saw the chance to do something really provocative and make the news, which also happened and he was sentenced for hate-speech.

The article doesn't mention that the racist shootings in Malmö were the main news item for weeks and that there were anti-racist demonstrations on the street because of it. There was a bit of (perhaps self-congratulatory; see below) feeling of "Sweden together against racism" at the time.

I also feel his paragraph on slave-trade could give the wrong impression. The story about the slave trade is not really an untold one, there have been several books, documentaries and news stories about it, a speech by the Minister of integration et. c. And just to make sure there is no misunderstanding: No slaves were imported to Sweden and the black population here arrived after WWII, most in the last 20 years.

Now, Momodou and Iteki raise a valid point about Swedish exceptionalism: In its foreign policy, Sweden was a strong opponent of SA apartheid, has been pro-palestinian, and has accepted a very large refugee immigration compared to most western countries. So on the political level, Sweden has a self-image of being the Good Guys. The public debate is also to the left of what most of you are used to (the present right-end coalition government is well to the left of Obama). Immigration-critical expressions are practically absent from the public political discussion, and those of us who identify with this political mainstream can be fairly self-congratulatory about it.

But there are larger racist and anti-immigration sentiments among the population than the public debate would indicate. Relatively recently, the right-wing extremists started to utilize this: They went from calling themselves things like "National Front" and "Keep Sweden Swedish" to forming a party with toned-down rhetorics. By talking about "the cost of immigration" rather than "racial purity", they were able to de-stigmatize themselves enough to get into the parliament, which was a big shake-up for the political establishment. All the other parties have sworn not to make deals with them or let them influence the political agenda (which has not been the case in most European countries - Sweden tried to learn from the mistakes of e.g. Denmark). Their parliamentary position allows them to be better established though, and the fear is that they will grow in the next election to the point where the country can't be governed unless they are let into the actual politics.
posted by springload at 11:35 AM on April 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


But there are larger racist and anti-immigration sentiments among the population than the public debate would indicate. Relatively recently, the right-wing extremists started to utilize this: They went from calling themselves things like "National Front" and "Keep Sweden Swedish" to forming a party with toned-down rhetorics. By talking about "the cost of immigration" rather than "racial purity", they were able to de-stigmatize themselves enough to get into the parliament, which was a big shake-up for the political establishment. All the other parties have sworn not to make deals with them or let them influence the political agenda (which has not been the case in most European countries - Sweden tried to learn from the mistakes of e.g. Denmark). Their parliamentary position allows them to be better established though, and the fear is that they will grow in the next election to the point where the country can't be governed unless they are let into the actual politics.

Would you say its been similar to public sentiment (per the news media) around the election of the True Finns?
posted by infini at 12:19 PM on April 21, 2012


infini: There are some similarities and some differences. The True Finns thrived on the Euro crisis, by objecting against Finland chipping in to save Greece. That made them the third largest party in the most recent election, with 19% of the votes, and thus they are a stronger political force than Sverigedemokraterna are in Sweden with less than 6% of the votes.

Immigration issues cannot really be compared between Sweden and Finland, because Finland has always had a much more restrictive policy. If the sources I can find online are to be trusted, the immigrant population in Finland is less than 2%, whereas in Sweden it is around 20%. Thus, Finnish resistance against immigration looks petty and populist seen from the Swedish side, whereas issues of integration and immigration are of some actual importance in Sweden.

To give voice for the Swedish exceptionalism then: Sweden has taken a big responsibility when it comes to refugee immigration. As an example, at least by 2008, Sweden had accepted more refugees from Iraq due to the Bush war than the US and the entire rest of the EU put together. We think that's something to be proud about, and also think other countries ought to do more. Comparing with most other countries, the extreme right has been kept relatively well at bay, and there are strong societal taboos against racism and hostility against immigrants. But there is also a fairly strong tradition of old-school liberal (not US-political-liberal) ideals, where freedom of expression is valued highly - especially when it comes to art - and these ideals are sort of made to clash against each other. Many artists see it as their job to be as provocative as possible and put pressure on the boundaries of free expression. The portrayal of the prophet Muhammed by Swedish artist Lars Vilks is another prime example of that.

All in all, I believe Sweden has handled issues of immigration and multiculturalism with more grace and humanitarianism than most countries, but there is definitely racism and hostility against immigrants going on and the nation's past is far from spotless. Hence, we shouldn't pat ourselves too much on the back. But if someone thinks Sweden is a particularly racist country, I don't think they are correct.
posted by springload at 7:01 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Following the global outcry the Minister releases a statement:

Our national cultural policy assumes that culture shall be an independent force based on the freedom of expression. Art must therefore be allowed room to provoke and pose uncomfortable questions. As I emphasised in my speech on Sunday, it is therefore imperative that we defend freedom of expression and freedom of art —even when it causes offence.

I am the first to agree that Makode Linde’s piece is highly provocative since it deliberately reflects a racist stereotype. But the actual intent of the piece — and Makode Linde’s artistry — is to challenge the traditional image of racism, abuse and oppression through provocation. While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite.

It is perfectly obvious that my role as minister differs from that of the artist. Provocation can not and should not be an expression for those who have the trust and responsibility of Government representative. I therefore feel it is my responsibility to clarify that I am sincerely sorry if anyone has misinterpreted my participation and I welcome talks with the African Swedish National Association on how we can counter intolerance, racism and discrimination.
----
Still missing: the voice of any black woman. I wonder why Nyamko Sabuni, Sweden’s dynamic Minister for Integration and Gender Equality, and the only black woman in Sweden’s cabinet, has not been asked to comment. In 2006, Sabuni created a storm of controversy when she called for mandatory gynecological examinations of all schoolgirls in Sweden in order to prevent genital mutilation. If she had been the speaker at this event, would she have been asked to cut the cake? Could her absence from the debate be because the inconvenient fact of a live articulate powerful black Swedish woman, who actually makes policy on FGM, shows up Linde’s shock art for the puerile nonsense it is?


excerpt from The missing ingredient in Sweden’s racist-misogynist cake in Pambazuka News by Kenyan artist and activist Shailja Patel
posted by infini at 10:12 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it would be interesting to hear Nyamko Sabuni's honest take on this. She was one of the founders of Afrosvenska Riksförbundet, and I believe her brother is active there. She is incredibly tough and not shy of controversy, but if she spoke officially she would have to do it on behalf of the government and try to soothe the conflict.

She's the person who made me contrast "Christian from Burundi" with "Muslim from Somalia" above, although I see now on Wikipedia that she isn't religiously active. The biggest association of muslims in Sweden were strongly against her appointment and claim she's islamophobic. That may serve as an illustration that black/white isn't necessarily the default dividing line here.
posted by springload at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2012


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