Image via The Graph.com
Bodies have histories.
When I first saw the images of the now infamous “Painful Cake” I had questions. Who created this? What went through their mind? Why is a Black female body being consumed both literally and symbolically by White women? What did the people in the room think? What was the climate in which this cake was created?
Apparently Makode Linde, an Afro Swedish artist created this cake in order to bring attention to Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and apparently, to critique Western ideas around Blackness and the ways in which Blackness is read as deviant, and to critique the ways in which it is othered.
In many ways this is a state sanction piece of art in that it was created as a part of Sweden’s World Art Day at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Sweden’s Minster of Culture Adelsohn Liljeroth has both defended Makode’s “right to artistic expression”and stated the she wasn’t aware of the form of the cake prior to it’s display. Talk about the politics of social location.
Initially I did not know who created this work, I had just seen snippets of conversations on the internet. And then when I learned that the creator was an Afro Swedish man, I immediately thought about the intersection of race and gender. The question then became how do we talk about the intersection of racism, and sexism when the creator of a problematic and offensive piece of art is a Black man? Why is this “okay” for Makoda to create this but not a White woman artist? Lastly, where are the women who are apparently the “subjects” of this work?
Kelly Virella at the blog, Old Dominion of New York writes,
Linde told Al Jazeeera those who are angry and at him and the minister took the work out of its context and misunderstood his agenda as an artist. “I think a lot of people saw some images taken during the performance, saw the pictures online and took the images out of its context. And they accused me and the cultural minister to be racists,” he said. “So I think the people who have been upset about the art piece, about the images, have seen have misunderstood the intention or the agenda of me as an artist.”
So. Here are my observations and my questions.
Bodies have histories and artists make real deliberate choices. According to Virella’s post Makode claims that he has done work historically that addresses race, Blackness and and Zenophobia. Does this mean that he will not be held accountable for not only intention but impact, because that is what we are talking about here.
The people in the room are mainly White and appear to be experiencing pleasure while observing and participating in Makode’s performance. Someone who I respect greatly recently taught me that we have to be mindful of the moments when we experience pleasure because those are moments where we are learning. In other words, those moments are not neutral.
Now I have questions. Where were the women who have experiences with FGM? Were they in the room? Why or why not? If they were not in the room, is this another example of the White Savior Industrial Complex? (shout out to Teju Cole).
Quite simply, did he talk to any women who had experienced FGM, both those who see it as a cultural tradition and those who deplore it? If yes, what did they say? If no, why is he speaking for these women?
What would have been the response of a woman who has dealt with FGM to Makode’s work? I don’t know, it isn’t my place to say. But as a Black feminist, it is certainly my place to ask.
And. If bodies have histories, how does he account for the histories of both the symbolic and in this instant, literal consumption of Black women’s bodies? These same Black bodies which have a peculiar and insidious history of being commodified and sold, globally.