On world Art Day, Stockholm’s Museum of Modern Art celebrated the 75th anniversary of the National Organization of Swedish artists with cake-themed art. Artist Makode Lindea, a biracial Swedish man, literally threw himself into his work. Linde posed as the head for a cake caricature of an African woman and screamed out when attendees took a piece of cake. The exhibit was meant to raise awareness of female genital mutilation, which is widely practice in Africa. The event became even more controversial when the Swedish Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, gleefully participated.
Liljeroth issued the following statement:
The actual purpose of World Art Day was to discuss and highlight the role of art in society. 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 rasist [sic] 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.
As Minister for Culture it is my responsibility to safeguard the conditions for and independence of art and culture. At the same time, it is also my job to uphold the democratic values that counter racism, intolerance and xenophobia.
I chose to open World Art Day to turn the spotlight on art and freedom of expression. The Swedish Artists’ National Organization chose in turn to highlight Makode Linde to bring attention to his anti-racist artistry. Through the ceremony, however, I became personally involved in Makode Linde’s highly provocative form of expression.
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.
The intentionally provocative cake was part of Linde’s “Afromantics” series, which reappropriates blackface. The artist’s portfolio (makodelinde.com) is full of similar work.
“In Stockholm, where I am from, the art world knows [about my work],” explains Linde. “Ninety-nine percent of my pieces have a anti-racist context. I’m the first one to admit that it’s a disturbing picture but it’s also a disturbing subject. One of the main roles of art is to talk about these things and make people confront them in themselves.”
Linde says the images, which have gone viral, are out of context and the outrage is misplaced. He asks “If people can get this upset from a woman cutting a cake, can’t they use that energy towards the real battle towards female genital mutilation?”