Clitoridectomy cake made no substantive statement about radicalized misogyny
akode Aj Linde’s clitoridectomy cake is simply one of the most horrifying and upsetting contemporary depictions of black women I’ve ever seen. The smiles and laughter (even if uneasy, on some level) of the mostly white, privileged participants in the piece made it all the more disturbing. As a black African and American woman — my family emigrated from Nigeria when I was young — it honestly wounded me to see both the piece and the response to it.
I understand that Linde’s intent was to concretely illustrate the hypocrisy of Westerners advocating against oppression in “Africa” without owning up to their own nations’ ongoing legacies of violent racism and misogyny. However, this doesn’t inherently validate Linde’s approach. He failed on multiple levels to successfully communicate his message.
One sign of this is the anger and hurt this piece has caused for many black women. We are, after all, the particular subjects of Linde’s piece. This was no generic statement; it specifically invoked the ways the white West has exploited and violated bodies read as black and female. As others have done, I wonder whether any black women were involved in conceptualizing this piece, or whether Linde at all considered the potential reactions of black women to painful, degrading depictions of our bodies and humanity, displayed for and literally consumed by a mostly white audience. Linde chose to highlight a racialized misogny that he doesn’t directly experience as a non-transgender black man. Making statements out of the pain of others is a delicate thing.
Worse, the piece did nothing to illuminate or inform about the long, ongoing history of racist assaults on the sexual and reproductive autonomy of black women. It communicated nothing of substance about the real, concrete violations of bodily integrity black women have suffered for centuries.
This is what Linde’s piece brought to mind for me: J. Marion Sims, the “father of American gynecology” whose procedure to repair vesicovaginal fistulas was perfected through dozens of surgeries performed, without anesthesia, on unwilling slave women – up to 30 operations on Anarcha, his primary “subject.” State-sanctioned sterilization of thousands of black women without their consent, or even their knowledge. Black women suffering countless rapes and assaults at the hands of whites, and having no legal recourse or protection, because white supremacy was the law.
The past remains present. Poor black African women are most likely today to suffer with untreated postpartum fistulas. Westerners, mostly white, continue to benefit disproportionately from the exploitaiton of people of color globally as “research subjects.” Forced sterilization of women of color remains a global problem. Women of color suffer significantly higher rates of rape and sexual assault.
Linde’s installation did little to spark awareness or conversation, much less action, around these issues on the part of people not already familiar — or living intimately — with them. There’s a lively debate about art and controversy, whether the Swedish minister of culture is racist or not, whether it makes a difference that Linde is black. Linde certainly managed to trick a bunch of powerful white people into looking tremendously foolish. But from where I stand, he didn’t succeed in getting white people to reflect in any productive or substantial way on their own complicity in racism, nor did he do anything to illuminate or address black women’s experiences of racism.
T.F. Charlton is an academic, writer, and blogger who tackles race, gender, and sexuality issues in fundamentalist Christianity at Are Women Human?. She can be found on Twitter as @graceishuman.
It’s A Cohesive Art Piece That Stimulates Discussion Of Oppression & Deserves All of Its Attention
was recently shocked by the Blackface Cake piece produced by Afro-Swedish artist Makode Linde. If you have yet to see this interactive art piece, I’ll tell you that it will definitely evoke a visceral reaction in you. The live portion of the piece is disturbing to watch, to say the least. The artist is dressed in Blackface, and cries as folks cut the portion of the cake designed as a vagina. This piece feels wrong to me on many levels, and nonetheless in a very deliberate manner. Honestly, there isn’t one part of this piece I find pleasing. Is this art? Well, the piece is extremely creative, and Linde is sucessful at disturbing without poking fun or degrading. This piece is also successful at reviving the historical reference of the “Blackface”, and bringing light to the subject of female genital mutilation.
As a Black artist and a physician, I find this piece strong on many levels. We as artists are responsible for explaining our work, the motivation and as well as the intention. When we choose to do a piece surrounding an aspect of oppression like Blackface, the art form is not lost, but is rather empowering in its ability to move us from our complacency. We as artists have the creativity to stimulate discussions around oppression without degrading or attacking the subject. As a physician, I have seen female genital mutilation, and have an understanding of it in its cultural context. I also understand its psychological and physical consequences to women. I think Linde is successful at bringing to light the concepts of powerlessness, impotence, invisibility and degradation using Blackface and female genital mutilation as references. Both subjects widely encompass these concepts, and are connected in how they are both dehumanizing. It’s a cohesive art piece, well deserved of all of its attention. I’d say well done to Linde!
Ako Jacintho is a San Francisco based visual artist part of the 3.9 Artist Collective. He is a trained physician and practices primary care in the Bay area. You can view his work at www.akojacintho.com, and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.