Georgina Guedes

That bloody cake

2012-04-19 14:22

Georgina Guedes

A friend of mine moved on from her studies in fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand after the most acclaimed piece produced by a student in that year was a vagina ashtray. My friend had various reasons for moving on, but the celebration of the vulgar or ugly when for her, art was something beautiful, certainly contributed to her decision.

I certainly wouldn't want to have a vagina ashtray in my house, but I do acknowledge that a function of art is to be something that challenges or makes people think - just rather in a gallery than my lounge.

Hand in hand with art's provocative aspect is the fact that the more people you can get to notice what you did, the better. Damien Hirst - perhaps one of the most well-known artists of our time - achieves his fame through selling dead animals in formaldehyde for a fortune. The price tag justifies the message: You people are willing to pay for this!

With the 24-hour news cycle and social media, there is another, even more elusive goal - that of grabbing your 15 minutes of fame in a creative way that brings attention to your message.

Swedish performance artist Makode Linde achieved all of this when he got the world to notice Swedish Minister for Culture and Sports, Lena Lijeroth, eating a slice of a cake depicting an offensively stylised African woman with blood-red filling. According to Linde, the point of the artwork (or performance, or confectionery) was to highlight female circumcision.

Given the recent proliferation of nationalist and Aryan messaging coming out of the Nordic countries of Europe, the cake eating was awkwardly timed. At any time, such a cake might be frowned on, but the immediacy of the media initially made it seem as if Lijeroth was engaged in some ritualised consumption at a diplomatic function.

In truth, the cake was sliced and eaten at the opening of World Art Day, where Lijeroth had been invited to speak on “the freedom of art and the right to be provocative”. The artist - a black man - positioned himself as the head of the cake and responded to being cut from the genitals up.

The layers of complexity of what followed are more dense than the icing on that cake - and that's saying something. Without the notoriety, the message would have been lost. But the message might have been lost in the outcry, regardless. We all know the minister ate “that cake”. Whether we all know it was a protest against genital mutilation is questionable.

What I do know is that I feel sorry for the minister. She has described it as a bizarre situation, given why she was there. I'm sure she found the cake discomfiting or strange, but whether she was able to visualise the next day's headlines as she made the decision to accept the invitation to cut the cake is unknown.

Is:
“Minister consumes black woman's genital cake”
better or worse than:
“Culture minister refuses to eat art-cake after promoting the right to be provocative”

Either way, I think that calls for her resignation are an overblown response, although I must question the diplomacy of the organisers who allowed this to happen to a dignitary who had graced their event.

On analysis, I think the messages we should come away with are: artists are weird, the Swedish minister was painted into a tar-black corner, and it's a crazy world we live in.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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