Swedish minister causes stir over cutting a cake depicting a naked black woman

Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth cuts cake depicting a black woman: Photo, Facebook
The National Association of Afro-Swedes calls for the resignation of Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Roth. At the celebration of World Art Day April 15 she cut up a cake portraying a naked black woman. According to the association, she participated in a "tasteless racist manifestation."

According to Afro Swedes' Association the cake represented a racist caricature of a black woman. According to the Modern Museum, the intention was to problematise female circumcision.

To say that you did this with good intention only amplifies the mockery of people who suffer from racism and against women who are victims of circumcision, says Kitimbwa Sabuni, who is spokesperson for The National Association of Afro-Swedes.

One cannot see how it benefits those people to degrade them in this way with racist caricatures in this kind of mocking spectacle, says Kitimbwa Sabuni.

The National Association of Afro-Swedes demands that the Culture Minister resigns.The confidence for her is exhausted. It is such a serious infraction. She as a minister must have sense and must be able to say enough is enough and not participate in this as a representative of the Swedish Government, he said.

We will seek clarification from the Prime Minister, says Kitimbwa Sabuni.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth understands the reactions. I understand very well that this provokes, and it was a very bizarre situation. I was invited to speak at World Art Day on artistic freedom and the right to provoke. And then they wanted me to cut up a cake first, she said.

The National Association of Afro-Swedes believes it was a racist caricature of the woman. If so, then they have to turn to the artist, I do not review art, but I can very well understand that the whole situation can be misinterpreted.

The Swedish paper Espressen asked the Minister why she still cut the cake? "In any case, everyone did, but it was perhaps a bit of a shocking situation and that was also what the artist wanted to achieve I suppose. He claims that it challenges a romantic and exotifying approach from the West at what is really about violence and racism. That's what I have learned about the artwork afterwards. The art must be allowed to be provocative," says Adelsohn Roth. (source Urbanlife)

Response of the artist Makode Linde

The artist Makode Linde, who is black,  believes that Afro Swedes National Association misunderstood his artwork, which he regrets, according to Expressen

Makode Linde is known for in his art, which is based on racism, xenophobia and slavery. The cake, which was part of his work, was to make a Western perception of Africa in contrast to the real picture of slavery and oppression. He also stresses that the main purpose of the cake was not to depict mutilation.

Sanza, thanks for the tip!


  1. - ugly racist depiction of a black woman
    - female circumcision is not an african issue: it is done a lot is mostly muslim countries (lebanon, iran, indonesia, united emirates, yemen) and some say it has its roots are in semetic and western traditions but was transmitted to some part of africa through religious influences. I would recommend you a book written in french http://hunganga.unblog.fr/lexcision-aux-sources-dune-longue-tradition-et-coutume-eurasiatique/

    so this guy with his cake have to apologize and to give a clear explanation to the black community as he spreads dirts and lies about black women.

    1. I am Lebanese and never heard of female circumcision practiced in Lebanon (neither have I ever encountered information that it is practiced). I wonder if I should get insulted that you went ahead and lumped Lebanon with other countries in your list somewhat like you got insulted at the maker of the cake.
      Also, I just wonder why would people conclude that in this case a black artist is seeking to humiliate black women. Why ipso facto that? Why not "look at this cake, it is grotesque, the objectification of women is even more grotesque"? And the biggest question: could the word "racist" be losing its real meaning once we apply it to artists making cakes?

    2. you should learn more about your own country. I bet you have also never heard about how bad your people treat their maid especially when their black! make honest research about the subject on the internet and you'll find some info. and oh and i have never said he was seeking to humiliate black women but he did it anyway and he has to give explanation about his goal. of course you're not black so you have your white perspective.

    3. Don't bet; you'll lose. I know of maid abuse very well. The "especially when they are black" part is inaccurate, however. Sri Lankan, Bengladeshi, Philippine maids don't get treated any better than the blacks. (By the way, Eastern European woman are also treated like shit - a lot of them are trafficked and work in the sex industry in Lebanon and the Middle East, so you're not the only victims, as I am part Eastern European and boy am I objectified! Telling me I have a "white perspective" is just being dismissive of whatever things I might say).
      As for female genital mutilation...
      Well...UNICEF(http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/lebanon_statistics.html), Gender Index (http://genderindex.org/country/lebanon) and WHO (http://www.emro.who.int/ghd/gender_profiles_lebanon.htm) say there has been no reported cases in Lebanon. I also know Lebanon quite well, and though I've heard of honour crimes, I haven't heard of genital mutilation.

      But that's not the issue that interests me most now. I thought about tell me, as a black individual - don't you really think that by calling the above event racist you trivialize the word "racism"? Racist behaviour is absolutely appalling; I have no idea who in his right mind would mistreat or abuse people just because their skin colour (along with, possibly, culture) is different. And yet, I, for one, don't see how, for instance, issues such as the US question of what to call black people while staying politically correct contributes to eradicating racism...I think it just breeds bitterness and touchiness over who called who what. Also, I don't even know how to properly define "racist" now. I fear a day will come when we will fight and argue about whether a cake or a painting is racist and just let bigger issues slide (or allow the media focus on smaller things and hide bigger issues from view...)

    4. In French, they would say "Une blague de mauvais". However if the artist is a Black, it is difficult to say that he is racist against his own race.

      Concerning female genital mutilation, the following source says that there were some cases also in Lebanon:Table 9 - UNICEF
      Le fait que le nombre soit minimum ne devrait pas servir d'excuse pour ne pas lutter contre cette grave violation des droits humains, surtout s'agissant de mineures comme c'est le cas le plus souvent le cas. rien ne peut justifier une telle pratique barbare.

    5. @ Abdoulay: you're right

      @ Vix, I don't care about your views on that issue. And I don't care about your bullshit internet links about Lebanon. I'm here to discuss black issues with black people. experience showed me that talking races issues with whites is a waste of time and when I read your comments I know that I'm right to think so. You should go and discuss racism with your peers who are the champions of racism in your country as well as in their african host countries.

    6. Sanza, I find your attitude towards other people with a different viewpoint more appalling than the artist's work. How can a conversation about racism only occur among people of the same racial background? I too get frustrated about that issue and having conversations who may not share the understanding but that's part of the process and someone might get frustrated by my shallow knowledge but that person just saying to me, "Bah your point is invalid." would not be any helpful or enlightening. Unless Vix was totally blind, incapable of seeing or listening or thinking which she obviously is not, you would see it's not a waste of time. Just telling her off saying she's white is as insulting as someone not seeing your complex ideas based on your race. (Racism experts too have different opinions all the time and a lot is interpretive reality.) What makes your point more open-minded, deep, perceptive? I agree with Vix, just saying this artwork is racist or not is shallow and problematic.

    7. Thanks, Anonymous. Appreciated. You also made clear another worry I have about people who cry "racism" - it leads to precisely this "closing off" from dialogue with other races/cultures. "They are different, they don't understand" is the premise. I hate that kind of thinking, it's this kind of premise that drove Lebanon to civil war after all. Kinda sad...

      Telling people "you're white, you don't understand" is kinda racist too...but it's ok, isn't it? It's not racism against blacks...
      All I wanted was some debate with a black person, something I don't often get a chance to do, unfortunately. Oh well.

  2. This is a complicated issue. While I am in no way the right person to critic art, of course many things shock me or even insult me. But I am a proponent of free speech and I'd go that far to accept whatever an artist makes. Art is not politcal propaganda. The intend of this artist is to shock rather than to insult. The advantage of this is that the issue of racism is problematized through his work. What annoys me much more than what the artist has done is the reaction of liberal thinking educated art loving white people. While they should be shocked and annoyed they are actually amused and having a good time. This is the disgusting part in all this. I think the artist made his point: White people (in Sweden) don't have any racial sensitivity and aren't even aware of it.

  3. @above: You're right about the people being amused rather than shocked. But I think its also interesting that they even cut the "cake" instead of refusing to partake in the project.

  4. Maybe I'm feeling/seeing too much out of this, but the more I looked at that cake with the knife sticking out of it, and I looked at it 4 times, I could not avoid the sensation that I was actually witnessing a decapitation, a mutilation. Especially when I saw the orangish-red insides of the "black woman's body".

    If the goal of the artist was to show that the black African woman is literally devoured, even "cannibalized", then he was successful. But the question still remains: If by the West, why the festive, giddy tone at the cake cutting? It's all a little "bizarre" for me.

    1. I think the way you describe is perfect and what I see as what the artist was trying to accomplish. It is extremely disturbing, painful but something about it makes you giddy. I thought he was creating that public decapitation on purpose because that's what happens when a black woman is put on display and her issues made to feed people's appetite whether it's for sensationalism or other things. I think the festive tone may be just because of the nature of the event or people responding to something unexpected. If I went to an art event and was suddenly confronted with a screaming disturbing cake I would have been revolted, puzzled, feel like "WTF are these people trying to tell me?" but at the end on the surface I would just laugh thinking "wow the world is so bizarre"). And I think whether it was a conscious choice or not by the participants or artist, it also paints a harrowing picture of reality: As someone suffers, we create a spectacle out of that suffering, we laugh and eat our cakes maybe not a cake of human shape but you know just at home we eat cake.

  5. if you support the call for Liljeroth's resignation, please sign this petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/liljeroth-sweden-s-museum-of-modern-art-liljeroth-should-resign-now

    This is artistry and intellectualism at its most puerile and sophistic state. It is low-quality, low-brow, and uncreative. There are many other ways to create a groundswell and gain international attention for fgm and genital mutilation of African women. I'm rolling my eyes at the "genius" of the artist. Nothing about this incites in-depth conversation about the specifics of fgm, the locations of fgm, the inter- and intratextual topography of cultural translation, the complicated issue of post-colonial gender construction in modern-day empires, or the funding of movements to STOP fgm. The only people benefiting from this entertainment are the elite minority who held the show. I doubt any person from the general population knows much more about fgm than they did before they heard Liljeroth's name. Again, if you support the call for Liljeroth's resignation and higher standards for the Western realm of institutionalized art, please sign this petition: https://www.change.org/petitions/liljeroth-sweden-s-museum-of-modern-art-liljeroth-should-resign-now

  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsdeI5JkbEo

    UNICEF documentary on FGM.
    FGM is not a laughing matter.

  7. they say ignorance is bliss. to me it sounds like the artist, the minister and the people in attendance of this gruesome public decapitation of a person (whether White, Black, Yellow or green) are blissful. ignorant of what (yes) fgm is, but also ignorance of what it is to be a black person, especially in a country like Sweden where less than 0.3 percent of the population is Black. The ignorance is quite understandable, but should not be accepted from a public official in a 2012 world where racism is supposed to be something of the past (on paper). I am always sarcastically amazed when Caucasians are suprised at how sensitive Black people still find the issue of racism. When we get annoyed when security guards suspiciously follow us around in stores, just because we're Black. When that White woman holds on just a little tighter to her purse when she passes us on the streets, even if we're dressed properly, no sagging pants and probably earn more than her. Or when that little 6-year-old White boy has no qualms at telling us to our face "you people all look alike", because that's how he hears his parents talk about us. What about the Black professional football players who -even in this day and age- get bananas thrown at them. Last week some idiot in Holland explained that the banana throwing refers to Black people's agricultural prowess back in Africa. Hogwash! Of course we should be careful not to oversensitize the issue, but come on; the oversized red lips, the skin as black as a cartyre? Laid bare to gawked at and then butchered into with a knife? The stomache of even the most liberal Black person turns at the sight. Whatever twisted point the atist saw in his screwd up mind to make, he could have chosen another way. I for one don't get his point and probably would have been laughing blissfully if i were as ignorant as him and his audience, and the minister he got willing to do the butchering. i place this story right up there with that of the Brazilian couple who killed people and sold them in empaladas. I wear size 12 boots; need them to kick that minister out?

    1. Mostly, I agree with your post. But I think the artist, being black, has an idea about what racism is like, in general and in Sweden.

      For this reason, I can't easily dismiss his work as blissfully ignorant or "simply" racist. Talking of stereotypes about race can include showing such stereotypes.
      I don't like the artwork for many reasons, but I would not read an artistic action and it's partecipants (even if highly questionable under many points of view) with the same parameters of a display of racism or prejudice in everyday life.

    2. my reactions didn't so much have to do with the artist, as with some of the rsponses i saw from people who say they understand and would like to get discussion going. What Black people experience even today is hard to understand if you're not Black. It's also in general about the feeble excuses people find to sweep racism under the table and to lable Black (or any disadvantaged) People's feelings as overly ensitive. As for the artist, I believe that being Black in Sweden he could have chosen a different way to express himself; a little less ignorant of the controversy he would spur. unless the commercial attention was what he was after, in which case i still have a problem with his insensitive greed that he disquises as an artform. and while i know discussing taste about art to be a long shot, i dare to say indeed that i do not like his art either, just as much as i question many expressions these days where people take liberties and have quality and taste clash head-on.

  8. I am totally distgusted at what I'm seeing right now. That aint no freaken minister. And he's certainly NOT BLACK. At least I pray to god he's not. Anyway, I don't see a damn thing FUNNY about this. This is down right racist and VERY...I don't even have a word for it right now. Its beyond ignorant. How about white women get their P*ssy cut out and see how funny it will be. Its official, white people are a bunch of melanin depleted basters of the world who are LACKING in brain functioning.

    1. THAT is racism. THAT is what we call "generalizing". I don't support the idea here, but what if this cake is just "noticing all races equally" and choosing the looks after the artist's preferences (who is black)?

      None of this fuzz would have been happened if it was a white male cake instead. But white men have an equal right to complain, right? Why don't you complain about white men's "segregation" when they themselves don't? Aren't you biased, when you rage for black people's rights yet leave white people's rights unmentioned, when you prefer "equality"?

      Do not overreact - do not generalize, please!

  9. He is not black. Just look closely at his hair around the edeges. Tell the Swedish f*ks of Sweden to go to hell. Tell them to come over here in America and try that sh*t. Hell has no fury then a woman scorn.

    1. I would love for him and her to try that in America. It wouldn't work.

      Europe has no respect for Africans and yet I see Africans kissing Europeans' butts. No shame at all.

  10. I want to know why minorities are constantly accused of crying racism or being called too sensitive. This is DISGUSTING (plain and simple), maybe if it was kept in context at its exhibition it would have been almost okay. The people in this photo are in jovial spirits and asmused, should they not be sombre.

    @ Vix, please do not tell Black people how to feel, to react when they feel they have been insulted. It is beyond insulting to be told that your feeling do not matter and are incorrect simply because your feelings have not been validated by a non-black person (cause you know black people always overreact & it's not recognised as racism until somebody else - who is calm and rational - says it is). Imagine how you would feel if someone who does not have the same experience of life as you do tells you that your feelings are wrong.

    I've found that most times intention doesn't matter when saying something racist. If I say Arabs are terrorists, my intentions and thoughts don't matter because that what I said.

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