On how the Internet tricked us with a racist cake

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Artist Makode Linde speaks about his "racist cake." You might not recognize him without the red lips and edible belly.

If you freaked out about that photo of the Swedish minister of culture cutting a cake in the form of the cartoonishly lurid female blackface cake this week, you might want to take a look at offending artist Makode Linde's interview on Al Jazeera today.

And you might want to think about how you're reacting to the Internet.

Think about how news of the cake was first presented. In a lot of the coverage, the providence and context of the cake wasn't even mentioned. The widely-circulated photos were of the white minister of culture with a knife, sometimes laughing, seemingly the most ignorant event that's ever happened, ever. There were strong calls for the minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, to resign. I'll admit, it was icky situation at first glance. 

I'll admit, I almost copy-and-pasted my outrage right onto the Facebook news feed. But something seem strange. I tweeted at my well-connected weirdo artsy friend in Stockholm. “What's up with the cake? Please translate.” He knew the guy, an African Swedish man named Makode Linde, who baked himself into all this trouble. My friend was curious to know what I thought – but said that essentially, he was on Linde's side.

Linde's main body of work is a series called Afromantics. In it, he deals with a life spent dealing with racism in his home country by reinterpreting and reproducing black face in various motifs – which is to say, he was more than aware of what he was doing by creating a black face woman with a horribly distended belly to address the topic of female mutilation.

This from his Al Jazeera video:

A lot of prejudice that concerns black identity concerns female circumcision that is oppression against women, this oppression only takes place in black africa. But [that] oppression is just one oppression... It can take place in Africa or Sweden or anywhere... By them labeling oppression to only be female circumcision and taking a certain form, I think that's putting on blindfolds for seeing what oppression really is.

Now there's a lot to discuss here. The fact that the cake-cutter was a white person was wacky, but given the context of the piece, it makes total sense and the fact that Linde might have been the only person of color in the room brings his piece to the level of performance art. Yes, he is still a man who made a cake out of a woman getting her clitoris cut off. There might be some things need to be addressed before I'm able to totally sign onto the racism cake.

But the Linde scandal should make us thinking deeper about how memes can distort truth -- that image of the cake was really all a lot of people needed to form an opinion on a rather complicated piece of art. It should be taken as a warning that a few days had to pass before the global community that tripped out on Linde's work even learned who he was. Few people have the time (like I do, yay) to delve into artist websites and call up friends from other countries based on one crazy photo seen on a website. As it was, that photo was spread around and editorialized on like some half-assed middle school game of Telephone. I wonder if half the people commenting on the links Linde has posted on his Facebook page even take the time to read the articles.

What with the Kony 2012 craze-cum-scandal-cum-naked-debacle, it's been an interesting year for viral Internet activism. Can we just make a rule that if you've seen two other of your friends post something, it stops with you? That way we can get back to making our very own intensely offensive projects. 

 

Comments

I know he's black, I still think it was ridiculous and he's not an artist - just someone trying to capitalize off something he doesn't understand.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2012 @ 12:05 pm

We're sacrificed levity on the alter of political correctness.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 18, 2012 @ 9:39 am

I couldn't have said it better myself, this from a West African Woman.

Posted by ChiChi on Jun. 18, 2012 @ 9:20 am

What is the Drinking age on SAS flight from Chicago to Stockholm , Sweden?

Posted by Galen Pelham on May. 06, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Another site is referrring it it a s a "'N__ger cake'" but searching leads only to references to a site in Swedish. The assumption that all all words in all languages derived from the Latin for black have the same connotation as in American English is culturally very narrow.

Slowly, slowly, the performance, and the viral video (usually only 47 seconds of a performance that must have lasted much longer) are actually starting to make people think and talk about genital cutting.

It made me think about the "cake party" that is re-enacted time after time in the Western world, with a screaming person and their genitals as the centre of attention, only it's a baby boy, and his genitals really are being cut as his family and their friends laugh and eat. I don't think even the artist intended that.

Posted by Hugh Intacitve on Apr. 20, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

huh?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

Makode went to CCA and was a regular man about town a few years back, FYI.

Yes, art does not exist in another ethical universe, but an artist works with images. Art that references historically racist imagery is not racism. Racism is racism. That needs to be remembered. Most media about this work has been really lazy about giving context to the piece and how it fits within Makode's larger body of images. A headline that begins with 'RACIST CAKE!" is already provoking a pre-response in readers/viewers.

The cake-piece is a thoughtful, layered, deeply funny work that comes out of queer and punk/metal subcultural aesthetic sensibilities. Rather than being in and of itself racist, I think that it has in-fact revealed the limitations of current anti-sexist and and anti-racist discourse.

Posted by Wagnerian on Apr. 20, 2012 @ 12:48 pm

"The cake-piece is a thoughtful, layered, deeply funny work that comes out of queer and punk/metal subcultural aesthetic sensibilities. Rather than being in and of itself racist, I think that it has in-fact revealed the limitations of current anti-sexist and and anti-racist discourse."

Thank you! While the piece is by no means "post-race/-gender", this should be the focal point of discussion from here on.

Posted by Stefan on Apr. 24, 2012 @ 2:04 am

While some people may have only seen the shocking picture with a brief caption, every news publication that ran the story clearly stated that (1) the "racist cake" was a piece of performance art intended to provoke a discussion about race and racism, and (2) the artist was a man of Afro-Swedish descent whose artwork explored racial politics.

Nonetheless, while I appreciate challenging art, I do not think art should be treated as if it inhabits some other plane of existence where different moral and ethical standards apply. Just because an artist intends to be provocative does not excuse him from being held responsible for his message and/or the manner in which he conveys it. Like you, I cannot quite buy into a male artist dressed as a grotesque caricature of a woman who screams while she gets her clitoris cut off and eaten.

I am also very surprised that any politician, white or black, would be so tone deaf as to be completely oblivious to the possibility that her participation in such a piece of performance art might be looked on less than favorably by the general public.

Posted by Chris on Apr. 19, 2012 @ 10:17 pm

well said!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 27, 2012 @ 12:06 pm