The Female Circumcision Cake

I’ve been traveling so I haven’t managed to sit down and write this post until now. On the way to Istanbul I saw a picture on my FB timeline of what looked like a black woman cake. I opened it and found this image:

At first I thought it was some kind of big joke. I mean how can a scene like this happen in 2012? Then I read the caption: Swedish minister at anti-female circumcision event, feeding cake of black woman who was just metaphorically circumcised to the head of the artist.

What?

The more I read & thought about it, the more crazy it seemed that this sh*t still happens today. The Swedish MINISTER OF CULTURE!

But then, how surprising is it, really? Living in the Netherlands has proven to me how racist discourses are still VERY strong, latent as they may be. Discourses such as the “white man’s burden” or “black culture oppressing Africans” or “we need to save them from themselves” are so prevalent that it isn’t actually *that* surprising to see an event like this happening in a country like Sweden.

And then defenders of the event & “art installation” bring up the fact that the artist is black, as though that makes everything okay.

The only good thing to come out of this disaster is the amount of brilliant, inspiring critiques from both Africans & Europeans (some at least). Just as with the Kony 2012 disaster, the outcry has been big. Since so many amazing critiques have already been written, I will just quote a few here, with whom I completely & utterly agree:

The event was launched with Swedish minister Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth cutting the first piece of cake from a dark, ruby red velvet filling with black icing, which we understand was created by the Afro-Swedish artist Makode Aj Linde, whose head forms that of the black woman,  and is seen with a blackened face screaming with pain each time a guest cuts a slice from the cake.

Rather disturbingly for many African women, the minister is pictured laughing as she cuts off the genital area (clitoris)from the metaphorical cake, as the  artist Makode screams distastefully.  The gaze of the predominantly white Swedish crowd is on Lijeroth who  is positioned  at the crotch end,  as they look on at their visibly ebullient culture minister with seemingly  nervous laughter as she becomes a part of the performance – a re-enactment of FGM  on a cake made in the image of a disembodied African woman.

The work is definitely not empowering or transformative for women who are victims of FGM  in any shape or form, and the racial overtones of this project re-inscribe the exploitation and dehumanisation of black African women, which clearly cannot be denied.

One does not need to be subjected to the epistemic violence  underpinning the grotesque reconstruction of FGM,  in the form of a black woman having her clitoris cut off to the sound of  a laughing crowd with a fixed gaze,  drinks in hand, to raise awareness of this very serious issue.

 Not one Black woman, not one Black person in the room, except the artist and his cake.

As such We/African Women/African-Americans and many women of the African Diaspora the world over view this as an assault on our foremothers, sisters and our selves who have worked tirelesslly in different historical and cultural contexts to rid society of the sexist/racist vernacular  and stereotypes of black women as  sluts, jezebel, hottentot, mammy, mule, sapphire; to build our own sense of selves and redefine what women who look like us represent.

We view it as a racialised slur and an attempt at erasure of all that we have struggled for historically in order to genuinely empower African women the world over.

No one, including the artist seems to have consulted Black African women at the forefront of the movement to end the practice of female genital cutting, often with little resources and in direct and dangerous conflict with their own communities.

What makes the cake episode so deeply offensive is the appropriation, by both artist and his audience, of African women’s bodies and experiences, while completely excluding real African women from the discourse. It is a pornography of violence.

You can read the rest of this stunning critique here.

On a lighter note:

DAKAR. Africans say they have little hope that Europe will ever become civilized, after a week in which Spain’s King Carlos went on an elephant-killing spree and the Swedish Culture Minister was entertained by a racially offensive cake. “You can take the European out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the European,” sighed one resident of Kinshasa.

Read the rest here.

Needless to say, this is yet another shameful event in Europe that shows how integral & definitive their colonial “past” continues to be in defining their present.

26 thoughts on “The Female Circumcision Cake

  1. As an African woman and an FGM SAVIVOR, I feel really offended, insulted and disgraced. I request the immediate demission of the so called minister.

    • When I found out about this atrocity fgm I was outraged and felt sorry for the victims but now I realised that parents who do this to their children deserve nothing. Well done I really enjoyed this grotesque spectacle of this “beautiful African tradition” savage bastards!

  2. I cannot believe it is that simple. Swedish people are not racists and are very caring people who deplore such things as FGM. There must be some other meaning to this however bizzar and tasteless this is. To analyze this and say that the swedes are racists is like going back to colonial days and who wants to go there. No matter what race you are- get over it -and get along with people as people and fight the real enemy- those who mutilate and destroy women.

    • Of course, not all Swedes are racists, & I’m sure not all Swedes approve of this spectacle. What I was trying to point at was how certain discourses prevalent in European societies make it easier for such “art shows” to happen, especially the discourse of “us and them” or the discourse of “us saving them.”

      • Sara, I’m really pleased to know you also oppose FGM. Most responses to the artist’s installation have neither stated nor even implied that the writers were also activists. I would be interested in exchanging views with other anti-FGM campaigners who regret that the artist was permitted to display on World Art Day and would have recommended censoring him – or her … The artist has checked ‘gender indeterminate’ on a bio page I reached via google…

  3. Suspecting that an art installation taken out of context was being distorted, I asked the Afro-Swedish artist who is being fed the cake by the minister WHY he, Makode Linde, had chosen to express himself in this admittedly provocative form. Makode Linde sent me this: http://hyperallergic.com/50140/controversial-afro-swedish-artist-speaks-its-a-disturbing-picture-but-its-also-a-disturbing-subject/
    cxxx // M

    It implies the key question WHY — when daily, real knives carve real flesh from real girls (who, now grown up, write unforgettably about this torture) — does a broad public attack an Afro-Swedish artist rather than oppose female genital mutilation itself? Please ready Khady’s ._Blood Stains. A Child of Africa Reclaims Her Human Rights_; read Maryam Sheikh Abdi’s “The Cut”; see Soraya Miré’s films and _The Girl with Three Legs_ …As Waris Dirie stated in a recent _Guardian_:” ‘If a white girl is abused, the police come break down the door. If a black girl is mutilated, nobody takes care of her. This is what I call racism’.”

    http://news.uk.msn.com/uk/medics-offered-genital-mutilation-1?cp-documentid=161153004#scptmh

    • Amazing African men and women have been focusing on female circumcision for DECADES, with little attention! Please don’t imply that we are focusing too much on the spectacle and not enough on female circumcision, this is extremely offensive!
      And don’t imply that we can’t attack both fgm and this absurd display of racist neocolonialism. We can, and have been, doing both. They are both problematic, insulting, and demeaning.

  4. Amazing quote from a friend of mine:
    “This may be a little dramatic, but honestly as an African woman, I felt circumcised(metaphorically) when I saw those pictures. Mentally infibulated. It’s as though all African women were that woman and her clitoris, her foreskin of pleasure, which is akin to her position and pride as an African woman visavis the rest of the world was being taken away from her. The African woman, the caregiver, nurturer, the activist, the lawyer, the doctor were all in that moment reduced to this pathetic piece of culinary art.Physical circumcision exists in our cultures and is strongly condemned, but there are many beautiful and energetic initiatives by African woman stopping that. Yet in that moment I felt circumcized, my pride as an African woman and my aspirations as a human rights activist was being fed to me and laughed at.”

    • A resonating comment. Thank you. Please encourage your friend to continue as a human rights activist and to let the world know that this is how she feels about female genital mutilation. Too few voices — FAR too few — are raised in the struggle to stop it. If only the indignation provoked by the never-intended broad dissemination of an out-of-context racist presentation were directed toward stopping FGM — girls would be spared the pain and life-long suffering.

  5. I am a non native Swede..but that does not block my thoughts to condemn this piece of cake..it not only degrades art, it degrades women in general, black or white….down with such cultural (rather I should say agricultural) freaks who sell their souls in the name of “art”……it is a symbol of non art that degrades all the masterpieces that are on perpetual display in all the museums probably all over the world. This is distasteful, nauseating, disgraceful, and outwardly racist…..I COMDEMN with all my intellectual might this fucking nonsense…A piece of art will never make you giggle, it will make you THINK….these feminist Swedes are a shame to the ideal of feminism, these are the fucking feminists who do not mind enjoy having sex with Julian Assange only to blame him for a ruptured condom morning after….such selfish and violent sexist agenda WILL NOT prevent FGM in Africa or anywhere else….such delusion that some of the Swedish feminism suffer from are superficial, ugly, racist, and comical to say the least. Swedish feminists will destroy ideals of feminism not only in Sweden but all over the world, so beware of the Swedish radical feminists!! I no longer miss Swedish ultra feminists women in my life…..they are robots, sex crazy, selfish, immoral, and dangerous and ugly exactly as that fucking cake….

  6. Absolutely unbelievable! In what universe could this ever be viewed positively?????this parody of art trivialises and demeans the very real horrors of FGM. Words absolutely fail me.

  7. This is one of the most frightening events I have seen. Whatever the intent of this artist, it is sadistic and clearly repulsive. This is an insult to women of all color.

  8. This is totally appalling. It is really beyond words that this could happen now in the world today. thank you for sharing it with me.

  9. The Swedish minister was cornered into this situation and had only the two options of walking out of the event or follow the instructions. Either decission would bring her lots of complains. Artists always wants to provoke and constatly try to step over the line of what is generaally accepted. Stupid event send the artist to Africa to learn about real life.

  10. Indeed FGM is not a good practice and the laws of Ghana in particular frawn at it. However, people still do it in closed doors. In last two months I decided to do a background research on the topic and to my utter dismay, a single mother and alreadya victim told me with pride that, “i am happy to have gone through it, since i don’t have feelings for men even after the death of my husband and Ilove that because I can stay without sex.” She added that, ” I will like to do the same to this daughter of mine.” Pointed to an innocent girl.
    This is funny enough just like the “cake.”
    But the way forward is to launch a crusade on the act by making sure that we bring perpetrators to book in orther to redeem the image of the pretty black woman.
    It is equally bad to hear that the people of sweden and their minister for culture eat “clitoris of the beautyful black woman” in the name of cake.
    It is a shame on their part.
    Women groups must not sit unconcern since it is an insult to all women all over the world; whether black or white.

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