Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's art, but is it racist?

A mini-scandal here in Sweden over the Minister of Culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, showing up at an event and cutting a cake that's a caricature of an obese African minstrel woman.  At first glance, it sure looks racist.

Of course, the issue is a bit more complicated.

The artist who made the cake is black (does that matter?). And he's actually the head of the cake.  Each time a guest slices a piece of the blood red cake, the artist moans in agony (see video below).  The message seems pretty clearly one lampooning the cake-cutters as racist, rather than a message that's racist against blacks or Africans.


It's not entirely clear to me that, when a government official is presented with the prospect of carving up a caricature of a black person, the government official should happily oblige. I get that the art is intended to fight racism. But does it? And what happens when a government official plays along with the joke/art?  Some have asked whether the government would play along with a cake carving up a Jew, or a Muslim?  How about a fetus?

I do think, first of all, that the minister is an idiot for carving the cake. She must have known what the optics would be like, and that the photos of her carving the cake would look per se racist. But is she racist for carving the cake and going along with the joke/political lesson? Of that I'm not so sure. In the end, the cake seems to have been made so that the guest would cut it up, and that the visual would send an anti-racism message. One could argue that the minister was simply a willing pawn in helping to spread that message.

In the end, is this a cake that was never intended to be eaten at all?  Wasn't the point to make the guests uncomfortable carving the cake, so that the only "good" person is one who refuses to carve the cake, period?  In a way, I'm starting to find the cake quite a brilliant statement. The guests who were willing to carve the cake with a laugh, less so.

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