Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth’s participation in a “racist spectacle” in which she carved up a cake depicting a naked black woman has sparked outrage and prompted calls for the minister’s dismissal.
“In our view, this simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden,” Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund) told The Local.
“This was a racist spectacle.”
Sabuni’s comments come following Adelsohn Liljeroth’s participation in an art installation that took place at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet in connection with World Art Day on April 15th.
As part of the installation, which was reportedly meant to highlight the issue of female circumcision, the culture minister began cutting a large cake shaped like a black woman, symbolically starting at the clitoris.
Makode Aj Linde, the artist who created the installation and whose head is part of the cake cut by the minister, wrote about the “genital mutilation cake” on his Facebook page.
“Before cutting me up she whispered, ‘Your life will be better after this’ in my ear,” he wrote in a caption next to the partially eaten cake.
But images of the event, which show a smiling and laughing Adelsohn Liljeroth slicing up the cake, have caused the National Afro-Swedish Association and its members to see red and issue calls for her resignation.
“According to the Moderna Museet, the ‘cake party’ was meant to problematize female circumcision but how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with ‘black face’ is unclear,” Sabuni said in a statement.
According to Sabuni, the mere fact that the minister particiapted in the event, which he argued was also marked by “cannibalistic” overtones, betrays her “incompetence and lack of judgement”.
“Her participation, as she laughs, drinks, and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision,” he said.
“We have no confidence in her any longer.”
Speaking with the TT news agency, Adelsohn Liljeroth was sympathetic to the association’s reaction, but nevertheless defended her actions.
“I understand quite well that this is provocative and that it was a rather bizarre situation,” she said.
“I was invited to speak at World Art Day about art’s freedom and the right to provoke. And then they wanted me to cut the cake.”
However, Adelsohn Liljeroth said the National Afro-Swedish Association’s anger should be directed at the artist, not at her, claiming the situation was “misinterpreted”.
“He claims that it challenges a romanticized and exoticized view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism,” she said.
“Art needs to be provocative.”
But the minster’s defence of her actions rang hollow for Sabuni.
“It’s extremely insulting for the minister to claim that we’ve somehow ‘misunderstood’ racism,” he said.
According to Sabuni, the incident is “strange” but “not unexpected” in the Swedish context.
“Sweden thinks of itself as a place where racism is not a problem,” he said.
“That just provides cover for not discussing the issue which leads to incidents like this.”
While a museum is certainly allowed to do what it wants as long as the laws are followed, Sabuni argued that a minister needs to be held to “higher standards”.
“To participate in a racist manifestation masquerading as art is totally over the line and can only be interpreted as the culture minister supporting the Moderna Museet’s racist prank,” he said.