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April 19, 2012

Photographer of Blackface Cake Cutting, And Others, Speak

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Written by: Kelly Virella
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Makode Linde, the artist behind the blackface cake.


he furor over last week’s presentation of a blackface cake at a Swedish art event continued yesterday, with more participants and observers of the event stepping forward to give statements and interviews. One interesting interview came from the photographer whose images of the smiling crowd at the art event brought it to the world’s attention. Another interesting statement came from Sweden’s National Organization to Stop Circumcision (RISK).

Makode Linde, the artist behind the cake, is a black man, and said it was designed to critique Western ideas of blackness. But an op-ed that RISK wrote called the cake “a tasteless and racist caricature.”

“It is with disgust and distaste that we take part of Makode Linde’s ‘performance work,’ where a cake depicting a caricature of a naked black woman has been cut up and eaten by those present. The cake was cut up from the diaphragm. Inside the head, lay Makode Linde himself, screaming every time someone cut into the cake.”

The op-ed added: “In mass media and social media, it is mostly the culture minister’s participaton that has caused a furor. Even if it is especially grave that the culture minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth was present and participated in cutting up the ‘cake,’ it is doubly insulting that the debate is about the Swedish minister rather than about an artist that had the poor judgement to distastefully and, in a racist manner, reproduce caricatures of an African woman who has suffered an outrage.”

In an interview with a Swedish news organization, the photographer, Marianne Lindeberg De Geer, disagreed with RISK’s assessment. De Geer called the performance art effective.

The news organization said: “Makode Linde, in a very efficient way, exposed the cowardice and the ingrained prejudices that well-meaning white Swedes go and carry on. Why people continued to cut the cake, despite the artist’s heart-rending cry? Why did the audience laugh, instead of speaking out? Why did she take pictures, although she thought it felt very uncomfortable?”

De Geer gave answered the questions: “That he screamed like that became a symbol of the whole situation. It was very naive and typical white bourgeois middle class to stand and laugh and eat it there. For it was not funny, it was a bit scary. He managed to get us who were there to feel revealed to ourselves in our naiveté.”

Linde said Sweden’s Minister of Culture, whose laughter at the cake angered many, had nothing to do with his decision to present it. ”She wasn’t aware of how the cakes would look,” Linde said. “And when she saw the cake and found out that it was partly alive, she got quite surprised.”

Nevertheless, the minister invited representatives from the Afroswedes civil rights group to a meeting to talk about the incident. When it ended yesterday a spokesperson for the group reiterated their call for her resignation.

A Swedish news organization reports: The Afroswedes national organisation thinks that the culture minister should have known what she was part of since she has “people that check out events before she comes there”.

Zakaria Zouhir, president of the Afroswedes in Stockholm continued: “That is number one. Number two is that this is an adult woman, a woman who is a minister, who sits in the goverment and who represents our people in power in this country. She is a woman who actually can ask questions when she gets the knife in her hand: ‘What is this? Can anybody explain why the cake looks like it does?’ She could have asked so many questions instead of only cutting into the cake and laughing with all the white people who stand there and toast and think its so funny.”

The artist behind the cake said it represents a woman receiving female circumcision. Linde says he created it to critique the Western tendency to point fingers at oppression in Africa, without examining its own racism, sexism and homophobia. ”Racism, oppression against woman, or homophobia can take place in Africa, in Europe, in Sweden, in anywhere,” Linde says. “By then labeling oppression to only be female circumcision or taking a certain form, I think that’s putting on blindfolds for seeing what oppression really is.”

A couple of years ago Linde released neon painted live chickens on a club dance floor and was convicted for cruelty against animals.

Gunilla Starkey researched and translated the Swedish news sources cited here.

About the Author

Kelly Virella
Kelly Virella lives in an East Harlem walk-up with her husband, her bicycle and her books. She's worked as a journalist for 11 years and started this website during the summer of 2011. She fell in love with New York City during her first visit here as a 16-year-old and finally made good on her promise to move here in April 2010.


Official portrait from his tenure as US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.