Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On eating Black Women

On World Art Day, April 15 and how they celebrated in Sweden

The social networks are abuzz with the latest sensational story of how the Minister of Culture in Sweden, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, took part in an art event which was supposed to highlight the issue of Female genital mutilation (FGM). The event was held at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the capital's museum of modern art.

In the photographs and video footage making the rounds on the internet, the minister is seen cutting a cake which is in the shape of the torso of a black woman. The cake, which is of a dark, ruby red velvet filling with black icing, was created by a black artist Makode Aj Linde, whose head forms that of the black woman, is seen with a blackened face and he screams each time a guest cuts a slice of the black woman (er, cake). The minister is laughing and she cuts off the genital area (clitoris) of the black woman (er, cake), and artist Makode screams.

Here is the video.

No doubt this footage has infuriated many people and accusations of racism have been leveled at the project. Indeed, there have been calls by the African- Swedish Association for the resignation of the minister for culture for having taken part in what they describe as a “racist spectacle”.

However the fury that I have seen particularly from African women has to do with the fact that this project was supposed to bring awareness of the very painful and complex issue of genital cutting. This is no laughing matter for any sane human being but certainly not for African women. The idea that someone who holds a position of authority and power, and who is a woman as well would take part in what is a humiliating, degrading and offensive project in the name of “raising awareness” shows a disconnect between herself and the women who have to deal with FGM.  That her sensibilities were not assaulted by the callousness of this project signifies a huge gap between African women and their issues and western women. This project is in my view no different from the” Hottentot Venus” Sara Baartman and other African women who were exhibited as freak show attractions in Europe in the 19th Century.Sara Baartman was tricked into going to Europe, where she and other African women were paraded naked in museums and public squares and gawked at by all and sundry, for their “huge buttocks and peculiar genitalia”. The objectification of African women’s bodies by the west is rife in the pornography industry and there at least one can argue that the women who participate do so willingly. However when this happens in the context of a serious issue such as FGM and it is done in the name of “art”, then there needs to be a strong unequivocal response against such an unacceptable, ugly and insensitive “art”.

The fact that the artist is black does not in any way diminish the gravity of this racist and demeaning project. The black artist who created this may be accused of being a dim witted misogynist, but the racial over tones of this project cannot be denied. His blackness does not legitimize anything done here and the message about the seriousness of FGM is totally crowded out by the hideous manner in which that message has been conveyed. One does not need to watch an ugly cake in the form a black woman having its clitoris cut off to the sound of screaming, while a crowd watches, drinks in hand with smiles on their faces to bring awareness of FGM. This says a lot about the people who were present and who applauded and actually saw nothing wrong with the whole scenario. Gosh that they could even eat the black woman (er, cake) is sobering.

The humiliation and dehumanization that comes with patronage is a huge price that Africans pay in order that their helpers might feel good about themselves. This is one occasion where I question whether many of those who seek to help Africans to solve their myriad problems do so out of a genuine empathetic desire to see an end to debilitating conditions or whether it really is about a thorough ego massage and the kudos that come with “doing good”.

However as long as we Africans continue to have problems for which we are not doing enough to bring solutions, as long as our governments continue to focus on looting and clinging to power, as long as our elite human resources continue to walk away without a backward glance, as long as our intellectuals continue to complain but do nothing, there will be more humiliation, mockery and dehumanization coming our way, and black women (er, cakes) will be eaten in Sweden and other places where African women are exotica. If we as Africans are serious about being viewed as human beings capable of thinking and acting in our own best interests, until we demonstrate that we are our own best advocates, we will continue to be spectators of our own destiny and to be seen as nothing more than strange children who are in a perpetual state of arrested development, disabled beings who don’t know what they want or need. We are treated the way we allow people to treat us. Disrespect of the kind demonstrated in this event is not acceptable in 2012. Only we can put a stop to this debilitating imagery of ourselves.

Since this blog was written I have joined hands with other women and organizations to write an open letter to the Minister of culture in Sweden. The link is below, please sign it and forward this blog to your friends and contacts. Fell free to google this issue and you will become aware of the widespread rage and consternation at this vile project.



  1. I 100% agree with you! I saw this and I was disgusted!! Racism is alive! We cant deny that!

  2. I googled "black women art" looking for an artistic painting of a black woman to use on my FB profile...saw this picture and landed here.
    Your article is fantastic...didn't know about this issue and have also just learned about Hottentot Venus. Thanks Barbara, for highlighting this.
    I'm an African female activist in Germany myself and completely agree with what you wrote about taking action.
    Well done!