If you freaked out about that photo of the Swedish minister of culture cutting a cake in the form of the cartoonishly lurid female blackface cake this week, you might want to take a look at offending artist Makode Linde's interview on Al Jazeera today.
And you might want to think about how you're reacting to the Internet.
Think about how news of the cake was first presented. In a lot of the coverage, the providence and context of the cake wasn't even mentioned. The widely-circulated photos were of the white minister of culture with a knife, sometimes laughing, seemingly the most ignorant event that's ever happened, ever. There were strong calls for the minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, to resign. I'll admit, it was icky situation at first glance.
I'll admit, I almost copy-and-pasted my outrage right onto the Facebook news feed. But something seem strange. I tweeted at my well-connected weirdo artsy friend in Stockholm. “What's up with the cake? Please translate.” He knew the guy, an African Swedish man named Makode Linde, who baked himself into all this trouble. My friend was curious to know what I thought – but said that essentially, he was on Linde's side.
Linde's main body of work is a series called Afromantics. In it, he deals with a life spent dealing with racism in his home country by reinterpreting and reproducing black face in various motifs – which is to say, he was more than aware of what he was doing by creating a black face woman with a horribly distended belly to address the topic of female mutilation.
This from his Al Jazeera video:
A lot of prejudice that concerns black identity concerns female circumcision that is oppression against women, this oppression only takes place in black africa. But [that] oppression is just one oppression... It can take place in Africa or Sweden or anywhere... By them labeling oppression to only be female circumcision and taking a certain form, I think that's putting on blindfolds for seeing what oppression really is.
Now there's a lot to discuss here. The fact that the cake-cutter was a white person was wacky, but given the context of the piece, it makes total sense and the fact that Linde might have been the only person of color in the room brings his piece to the level of performance art. Yes, he is still a man who made a cake out of a woman getting her clitoris cut off. There might be some things need to be addressed before I'm able to totally sign onto the racism cake.
But the Linde scandal should make us thinking deeper about how memes can distort truth -- that image of the cake was really all a lot of people needed to form an opinion on a rather complicated piece of art. It should be taken as a warning that a few days had to pass before the global community that tripped out on Linde's work even learned who he was. Few people have the time (like I do, yay) to delve into artist websites and call up friends from other countries based on one crazy photo seen on a website. As it was, that photo was spread around and editorialized on like some half-assed middle school game of Telephone. I wonder if half the people commenting on the links Linde has posted on his Facebook page even take the time to read the articles.
What with the Kony 2012 craze-cum-scandal-cum-naked-debacle, it's been an interesting year for viral Internet activism. Can we just make a rule that if you've seen two other of your friends post something, it stops with you? That way we can get back to making our very own intensely offensive projects.