Gwynne Dyer: I’ll have a slice of clitoris cake, please

Let’s suppose that you are an artist who knows you have to shock people if you really want to get on in the trade. And not being Damien Hirst yet, you should probably justify your shock tactics by claiming that they serve some good cause or other. So which cause will it be?

Children of war? Taken. AIDS victims? Even Benetton has done that. Well, then, how about female genital mutilation?

That’s more promising: FGM offer possibilities for really shocking images, if you want to go down that road. And our artist certainly does.

To work, then. Obviously, an anatomically correct sculpture of a woman about to undergo this ordeal would be ideal, but not a tedious conventional sculpture made of metal, wood, or papier-mâché. This is high art, conceptual art, so how about we do it as a cake? Then we could eat her afterwards. Nice symbolism.

Our aspiring artist (let’s call him Makode Linde) decides that his cake-woman should be black. And since he doesn’t want to be left out of the picture, he decides that the cake-woman should have a life-size body but no head.

Instead, Linde will poke his own head up through a hole in the table that the cake lies on, just where the cake-woman’s head would be. He’ll be in cartoonish blackface, of course. And he invites the minister of culture to the event, in the confident knowledge that (this being Sweden) the poor fool will actually come.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth rolls up to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, accompanied by several of her ministerial entourage, and is invited to be the first to cut the cake. Not just anywhere, though: she is told to cut a slice from the cake’s “clitoris”. As she does so, Linde screams loudly. Then, laughing at the surrealism of it all, Liljeroth feeds some of the “clitoris” to the blacked-up artist. He laughs, too.

You will have realized by now that I am not making this up. It happened in Stockholm last week, and you can see several videos of it on YouTube. And it didn’t make me any happier when I found out that the artist himself is black.

Well, not black, actually. Linde is mixed race, with a Swedish mother and a West African father, and he has lived in Sweden all his life. But the fact that all the participants in the event knew he was “black” made it all right for them. Well, sort of all right: if you look closely at the crowd of white Swedes in the background of the video, they’re laughing, but it is distinctly nervous laughter. They know there’s something wrong here.

Indeed there was. This event has unleashed a torrent of self-criticism in Sweden, together with a great deal of abuse from foreigners about the “racist” Swedes. The smarter Swedes suspect that they have been tricked into looking worse than they are by Linde, but they’re not sure quite how he did it. So let’s help them.

Linde claims to be an “Afromantic”, whatever that means. “I’m revamping the black-face into a new historical narrative,” he explains unhelpfully—and adds that he made this cake because the Artists’ Association of Sweden had put out a call for artistic cakes to mark its 75th anniversary. But what he’s really doing is distorting FGM into a racial issue, because racial issues are his artistic stock-in-trade.

The subtext of Linde’s little game is that black Africans are the victims of female genital mutilation, and that somehow it is the fault of white people. That’s why he appears in the sort of extreme, caricatured blackface that was used by white comedians about a century ago.

Except that the victims of FGM are not particularly black. The ones in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nigeria are, but the last time I looked Egyptians were not black, and 97 percent of Egyptian women have suffered “female circumcision”. It is generally done by the mothers and grandmothers of helpless little girls, so the perpetrators of this atrocity are almost always of the same ethnic group as the victims.

They are usually of the same religion, too. The great majority of FGM victims are Muslims, but the custom is clearly pre-Islamic. (It was already being done in Egypt under the pharaohs.) It is common all over the northern half of Africa, but its roots are in the northeastern part of the continent, where the Christian majority in Ethiopia and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt practise it as enthusiastically as their Muslim countrywomen.

FGM is an agonizing procedure (usually done without anesthetic) whose main purpose is to deprive women of the possibility for sexual pleasure so that they will not be tempted to stray from the beds of their husbands. No amount of cultural relativism can excuse it, but this is not the right context for that discussion. The question here is, why did Linde create this ugly and deeply misleading event?

The answer, alas, brings us full circle. He thought it would have shock value, and he wasn’t going to let a few facts get in the way. See above.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Comments (17) Add New Comment
CHRISTRAPER SINGS
This is the most ignorant and reactionary thing written about Makode Linde's cake piece so far.

To understand the work, one needs a heavy amount of context. This article provides none really, except for the author's own imaginings about intent.

For a much more accurate synopsis, folks should check out Max Fisher's piece in the Atlantic.
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James G
In spite of the context, where the artist is attempting to mock Sweden's arms-length outrage at female genital mutilation in Africa, this is offensive.

Even in this age of internet access to images, society is charged with a responsibility for deciding what is obscene. I would not suggest anything as draconian as censorship, but why ever is it carried in 'The Georgia Straight' other than if Gwynne Dyer is under a long term contract for his increasingly esoteric musings?
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Ben Gazarra
Ugh! Can anyone ever understand what the point is that the author here is trying to say about the piece? I can't except that he/she is deeply offended by a piece of art that brought them out of their comfort zone.

You're sickened by the practice of female genital mutilation but at the same time disgusted by the accusation that the Swedes are keeping an arms length from the issue to avoid accusations of racism? It's just not clear to me.

I'd like to see some Canadian art dealing with the subject of female infanticide by the Asian community here in Canada and I'd like to see it done by A WHITE MAN!!!!!
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Pat Crowe
I can never cut cake again.
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Hugh Intacitve
Seems to me the artist has been highly successful in exposing the inconsistency of a lot of people who are outraged at white people in Sweden eating the "genitals" of a "black woman" made of cake while having nothing to say about girls (and boys) having their real genitals really cut - perhaps even going off to celebrate the real cutting of a real baby boy's real genitals at a real party - with cake.
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bdubblut
So who wants their cake to eat too?
Food for thought anyone?

BRAVO Gwynne Dyer!
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S B
Gwynne Dyer is doing his job by providing some facts and history about FGM and race. Max Fisher's article doesn't provide this, and I'll wager neither do most of the professional art critics. Maybe the art critics can tell us something that Dyer doesn't see here, but Dyer is the better source for facts about the world.
Linde was aiming for shock value here, whether or not he actually understands the issue.
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stefaneechi
I think the performance isn't simply about FGM. It's also sparks issues such as inequities of class, race, and gender as well as the aftermath of colonialism. Let them eat cake and ponder what thoughts that bad taste spectacle evokes.
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peter kratoska
the torso is obviously based on the venus of willendorf who was also not black.
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Issac Chandler
>victims of FGM are not particularly black.

"If a white girl is abused, the police break down the door," said Somalia-born model Waris Dirie , who underwent FGM as a child.

As many as 100,000 women have undergone the procedure in Great Britain:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/apr/22/female-genital-mutilation-uk-me...
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art is in the eye of the beholder
while the black clitoris ends up in the a mid wife's hands all to please men who believes it is his clitoris to do with what he wishes as he has a hand in cutting it down to size. Man decides he will cut out all the pleasure and keep it to myself. Is it God's handy work or men who are afraid their teeny weenies will leave them with out a job? It really is quite sick when you think of it and why the women when it is the men who have the sexual appetite that they openly admitt to as they cover up women's faces. Can't even see a little flesh without going into a sexual frenzy sounds more like a race of sadistic perverts.
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doubletalk
Hey, from what I gather from people who call themselves "artists" here in Vancouver all art is above criticism. Art is vital to the advancement of society. What a crock of ---- artists yap about to justify their "contribution" to humanity. Most art (particularly this cake) is just bull----. Oh, don't forget, the government is supposed to give them some money too.
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ART IS VITAL
To the advancement of society and to the clitoris who is being cut out of everything except of giving birth. How would you like to be a concubine? Bringing awarness to the sick and sadistic back world thinking that exists in our society is a good start? double talk says it is a waste of time and I say it is a good chance in BC you have a neighbor who dosen't have her clitorious anymore.
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James G
@ doubletalk

Well stated.

If art is to used to probe societies deficiencies, rebelling against the gender equality, comfort with sexuality and genuine international concern in Scandinavia would mark the artist as a douchebag. These are the worst things against which he can rail?

There is no point in bringing a discussion of race into the discussion. Regardless of the artists racial background or his failure to pinpoint the main victims of female circumcision, who can seriously argue that someone with negroid features could be used as representative of Africa?

Still, that is up to the intended targets of this art to judge. Carrying this forward to the world, like a hustler in a back alley offering us a peek at forbidden postcards is what Mr. Dyer is here doing! This is what I referred to as obscene in my unpopular comment above. Someone is peddling ultimate degradation and suffering for personal gain.

Why are we told that shock value is the only value by someone writing about it? If you don't want to feed the shock value of the piece, don't write about it.

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Leone
I noticed it appears the cake is a Devils food cake - is Linde suggesting Africans are devils? Oh gee, I'm questioning the art -- that must mean the artist has succeeded in his goal. Seriously though, Gwynne is merely exposing Linde's art for what it is: a pretentious act of self aggrandizement. This one belongs in a gallery beside Voice of Fire.
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Ernest Payne
Mr. Dyer cut to the quick of the situation and the artist (pardon the pun). I would have been far more impressed if the artist had arranged this performance art in Egypt. It was simply an attempt by the artist to arrange self aggrandisement and publicity.
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Kaos Agent
Publicity about FGM would have been maximized if Sasha Baron Cohen had cut the cake instead.
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