A black “Golliwog” woman screams desperately as a blonde-haired woman cuts into her genitals with a cake knife. Then smiling, the blonde woman leans over and feeds the slice to the now laughing figure, cheered on by her giggling peers.
This was the scene at a recent event held by the Swedish Artists Organisation to celebrate its 75th birthday. Artist Makode Linde was invited to design a cake, and chose to highlight the Swedish Cultural Ministry’s work against female genital mutilation (FGM).
Linde chose to create a cake in the shape of a stereotyped racial depiction of an African woman – the “golliwog” caricature with big white teeth, a long neck held up by gold rings, large breasts and pitch-black skin. Linde lay under the cake with only his head exposed.
Guests were then invited to cut slices of cake from the figure’s genitals. Linde screamed in mock-agony as each guest came up.
The image that spread all over the internet was one of Swedish Cultural minister Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth laughing and feeding Linde slices of the cake she had just cut from the figure’s genitals.
The image caused outrage and shock, and the African Swedish National Association called for Adelsohn-Liljeroth’s resignation. Kitimbwa Sabuni, the head of the group, said: “According to Moderna Museet (the museum where the cake was on display), the cake eating party was intended to highlight the problem of female circumcision, but how this is supposed to be done with a cake depicting a racist caricature of a black woman … is unclear.”
Others argue that the shock people felt when they saw the images were an intentional part of the artist’s installation, and that it highlighted still-present attitudes towards Africa in western societies such as Sweden.
Liepollo Pheko (@Liepollo99) , Executive Director at NGO Trade Collective and prominent South African social commentator said:
“This is so nasty and so vile. Sarah Baartman was the object of physical humiliation and mutiliation thoughout her life and, apparently, throughout her death. She was sliced up while on display in Europe, and is again sliced up long after the last of her brutalised remains finally made it home. To even use the image of slicing a Black woman’s genitalia — supposedly in solidarity with women who are sliced on the continent — is perverse beyond words. And while smiling and carrying on like it’s some S&M thrill”
Max Fisher, editor of the Atlantic in the US had the following to say about the cake:
“The African in the room is a caricature, an outdated Western golliwog distortion that looks nothing like actual Africans. The black face, the tiny limbs, the face paint that exists only in Western portrayals – it’s a symbol of the Western imagining of helpless, agency-less, child-like Africans.”
Adelsohn-Liljeroth has sinced apologisedfor her participation, but still supports the manner in which Linde chose to highlight FGM. In a statement she said “I am sincerely sorry if anyone has misinterpreted my participation. While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite.”
Learn more about the realities of female genital mutilation and work being done to prevent it, on the The World Health Organisation’s page
Read Lisa Golden’s personal view on this story