The power of images – African women and Swedish politicians

I don’t tend to get surprised about racist acts, at least not when it’s so stereotypical as this whole tragic ordeal with the Swedish culture minister eating a cake of what is supposed to be a mutilated African woman. As a mixed race person I’ve experienced racism from the places where it possibly chafes the most; from family members, and from both sides, so I am rarely bewildered by people’s prejudices.

But although I may not get surprised, I get angry. Always. Very. And in this case, I don’t care how politically motivated the designer of the cake, Makode Linde, claims his work was, there is no excuse for him to refer to that horrendous thing as ‘art’. As stated in a previous post discussing art, if creativity isn’t about community in one-way or another it is dull at worst and provoking at best. Makonde Linde’s is both.

I moved from Sweden after living there for about a decade, and events like this make it tempting to start listing all the bad things and reasons why I left. I won’t just now. But I will say that the hidden racism in that country, like in many others, is epidemic and the sooner we start talking about this uncomfortable truth the better. How could not a single one of those people in that room object to eating African mutilated vagina cake!!??

Most of our societies have shifted from oral to text and now to image-centred communication. THE POWER OF IMAGES CREATE THE MYTHS OF OUR TIMES.
The images that categorize people whether by gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on have a profound effect on our worldviews. And yet most of the images we see of black women are either exotically sexualized creatures like Josephine Baker or Nicki Minaj or unshapely mother hens, like the Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix stereotype, or the maid in The Help. In 2012 one would’ve hoped at the very least not to be seeing the worst of them all, the Sarah Baartman caricature.


  • Iola

    I totally agree with your sentiments, Minna. Like you, I wasn’t shocked by the so-called art creation, instead I just thought it both disgusting (provoking) and alienating.

    The image – which I’m grateful to you for NOT re-posting – has served it’s purpose by offending our community. But instead of getting angry about it, let’s remember those who have been subjected to the brutality that is Female (and male) Genital Mutilation. Another thought that springs to mind is that the image (with the laughing faces, and visible flesh)also displays (and somewhat glorifies) cannibalism, whilst mocking the practice of FGM. A tiny piece of me (playing devil’s advocate) would like to put some logic to this by thinking they (the artist and the spectators) were trying to say it’s (FGM) barbaric, but that was a flickering thought. There is absolutely zero logic to this, yet I don’t feel re-posting the image and ranting on about it will make much difference but to simply help to publicise and promote this (now) world-renowned artist.

    Instead, it’s our duty to replace these images with more attributable and positive ones via public forums like this one. Keep up the positivity and empowerment!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for this..
      Definitely not reposting or linking that image anywhere..
      I don’t think there’s any logic to it, I think the ‘artist’ is a confused man who wants to become famous by all means and is doing so at the cost of black women. Because no matter our outrage, the spread of those images work simultaneously in reinforcing a stereotype.
      Indeed, the way to combat racist and sexually exploitative media, is to not only identify when images are used destructively but to publicize alternative images of black womanhood.

  • MbA

    I have been waiting for you to address this. Saw this on Facebook a coupla times and was horrified! I just don’t understand. Why are we of the African continent so mistreated to this day?! What have we done? And even though I have witnessed racism towards Whites from Blacks and vice versa, all I will say is that when Africans are racist in my experience it’s usually just words with the exception of Mugabe chasing all the white people out of Zimbabwe but when it is the other way around it just goes to depths that are beyond me. What makes this even more sickening is that the facilitator is Black! It really irks me when my own people are guilty of perpetuating prejudice against us. We say we want equality but there we are aiding in the keeping the existent inequities intact while creating new ones in the process!

    • MsAfropolitan

      Your comment makes me think of not only the way that we may perpetuate prejudice amongst ourselves but also the gendered side to it, of black men exploiting the black female body to their benefit. When will it stop?

      Agree, black racism is not comparable to white racism in any kind of proportion and I detest the term ‘reverse racism’ for that reason, it makes it sound as though the two are comparable.

      That said, we should all be striving to live without hate towards anyone based simply on the fallacy of racial difference and there are people of all colours and ethnicities who unfortunately don’t strive for that.

  • Summerisdonna

    I think the whole world got an epiphany of the hidden racism in Scandiavia.I’ve kept telling people how racist it is over here. The viloence against women of colour is very high in finland. Funny thing is reports like that are not released as poc aren’t worth mentioning. There are worse things going on in society.Most of the people I’ve met in Finland who have an African background whether biracial or black and grew up here have an inferiority complex. I look black but my mother’s white and when one of my black colleagurs found out said *i wish my mother was white*. I feel the artist is a product of this selfhate that I don’t get. In finland if you claim its racism they say you’re being too sensitive, or brush it off as a joke. All I can say that its about time we talked about it and the tasteless ‘art’ and laughign around the table.’Black Swedish artist Makode Linde. Scene: A roomful of White Swedes laughing as cameras flush. Occasion: Minister of Culture performing a simulated clitoridectomy on a cake-installation of a black woman´s body. More flashes as the moist red interior is revealed. More Drama: The ´´head´´ of the body moans with each slice. Me: I haven´t even recovered from the ´´used underwear for Africa campaign´´, won´t even mention Kony’

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thanks for your comment. I could not agree more. Self-hate and denial are a lethal combination. I visit both Sweden and Finland frequently and unfailingly I’m reminded that folks there are living in some bubble. Even the so called liberals don’t seem to have a clue. At least in the UK people think twice before doing nonsense, most often. In May I’m in Berlin at a conference about Afro-european identities so check in for reportbacks on that and there’s a book coming out soon which you may like to read, I know there is some Afro-Finnish writers included

      • summerisdonna

        Hi Minna,
        Thanks for the heads up.Will be checking on the reports.My dad actually wrote the first book in the 60’s, his story about how his experience was in Finland. Its over 40 yrs and I don’t see much difference. Let me know when you are in Finland next.

        • MsAfropolitan

          I’d love to know more about your dad’s book!
          Will do. Are you in Tampere by any chance?

  • Rochelle

    Hi Minna,

    Loving your blog. Though this event, is utterly grotesque. Thanks for giving this its proper name.

    I’m looking forward to meeting you soon in Berlin. Please check out today’s blog ‘Colonising [Germany] in Reverse’ to continue our discussion on race and space in Europe.


    • MsAfropolitan

      Hi Rochelle! Likewise. I will do. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Carolyn Moon

    I’ve read a number of blogs regarding this spectacle and as usual there will be those who think we are overly sensitive and “for God’s’s a man of color who constructed this thing”.

    As one who had a hard time healing from the wound incurred from my research on the Sarah Baartman debacle–this so-called ‘art’ rubbed the scab right off!

    rings true throughout the diaspora.

    As usual, I enjoy my visits to your blog!
    Take care….

    • MsAfropolitan

      Thank you, Carolyn! I can relate to what you’re saying about the scab, I think watching video will be one of those moments I never forget.