This is something I've been pondering in the wake of the widespread coverage devoted to Sweden's minister of culture, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth.
She recently attended World Art Day at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.
This was initiated by the Swedish Artists' National Organization (Konstnärernas Riksorganisation, KRO) to mark its 75th anniversary. The jubilee celebration featured a panel discussion around the theme of "Freedom of Artistic Expression and Dialogue with Society".(1)
Delegates didn't have to wait long to test the importance of this issue. As part of World Art Day, Moderna Museet provided the venue for a "happening" by the artist, Makode Aj Linde.
He produced a large cake in the shape of a naked black woman with his own head peeking out at the top.
Aj Linde wailed and screamed as the blood-red sponge cake was cut. The first incisions began at the figure's "clitoris". This is because the artist intended his so-called "genital mutilation cake" to draw attention to women whose lives continue to be blighted by the scourge of female circumcision.(2)
One of those wielding the cake knife was the aforementioned Adelsohn Liljeroth. She was subsequently forced to defend her actions following searing criticisms from the National Afro-Swedish Association (Afrosvenskarnas riksförbund, ASR).
The image of the laughing politician stuffing her face with cake to the delight of the watching all-white art darlings led a spokesman for ASR to condemn this "racist spectacle" and demand the minister's resignation.(3)
Inevitably an affair such as this polarises opinion. But for me its most remarkable aspect is the tremendous global attention it has generated. I can't for one moment imagine that an august publication such as Britain's Daily Mirror newspaper has had much cause to write about Moderna Museet in the past. But its website currently has a large feature devoted to the story accompanied by a series of photographs, including a most unfortunate picture of Adelsohn Liljeroth squealing with delight as she feeds Makode Aj Linde with a slice of his (sic) own vagina.(4)
Turning to a source such as Google News reveals that this incident has been broadcast across various platforms and in multiple languages around the world. In the time it takes to cut a cake, Moderna Museet has gained far more publicity than it has been accorded in all the years I have spent analyzing it.
Whether this attention is merited is a moot point. The person whose bomb threat led to the temporary evacuation of the museum is unlikely to be receptive to a balanced discussion of Makode Aj Linde's work.
However, all this most certainly marks a deliciously apposite high point in Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth's glittering political career. She has been a government minister for more years than I care to remember. Such is her prowess that, faced with the invidious choice of her or Jeremy Hunt for the post of minister of culture, I'd begrudgingly settle for the latter. She really is that awful.
Yet hopefully even Adelsohn Liljeroth will have learnt one thing from this fracas: you can't have your cake and eat it (unless, that is, you're Makode Aj Linde and are being fed tasty morsels by a dim-witted politician).
Watching Adelsohn Liljeroth scoffing a slice of "genital mutilation cake" brings a whole new dimension to the mantra set out on her official governmental web page: "Culture primarily provides food and energy for the soul" she declares between mouthfuls, before remembering to add in the important bit about making lots of lovely money.
(1) "Fira World Art Day och KRO 75 år!" See http://www.kro.se/3561.
(2) Luke Harding, "Swedish minister denies claims of racism over black woman cake stunt", The Guardian, 17/04/2012, accessed 18/04/2012 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/17/sweden-europe-news?intcmp=239.
(3) David Landes, "Minister in 'racist circumcision outrage'", The Local, 17/04/2012, accessed 18/04/2012 at, http://www.thelocal.se/40312/20120417.
(4) Natalie Evans, "'Genital mutilation cake is misunderstood': Artist behind Swedish culture minister 'racist cake' row defends his work", Daily Mirror, 18/04/2012, accessed 18/04/2012 at, http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/racist-cake-artist-behind-swedish-798491.