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‘Art’ as Violence against Black Women’s Bodies

The image of a white woman laughing as she slices the genitals on a cake of a black woman’s body went viral yesterday. As the white woman (Swedish minister of culture Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth) cuts into the cake, the head of the Black woman (Afro-Swedish man Makode Linde in blackface) screams in pain and the white people laugh.

There have been a variety of responses including:

Plus a variety of comments, from men who complain that male circumcision is just as bad [I can't even respond to this] to men who laud the “art” as “genius” for revealing the white elite at their most gruesome.

My own response was immediate: This is sexual violence against Black women. To applaud this as art is to dismiss the reality of violence against Black women and the way that this public performance reinforces violence to Black women as normal. There’s racism and sexism both, but the sexual violence in each is what I see.

I think that Kenyan artist and activist Shailja Patel is right to label it a “pornography of violence”.

The Crunk Feminist Collective, a WOC group, asks if the artist bothered to ask women survivors of female genital mutilation what they thought of his work.

Womanist blogger Renee Martin had a strong response that I want to quote here:

Cutting into a woman’s body even symbolically is violent. To watch as these White women laughed and consumed cake, supposedly out of concern for a problem that does not happen to them, belittles the struggle to end the horror of FGM. The fact that the cake is a red velvet cake underscores the violence as the red symbolizes blood. Hasn’t enough Black blood been spilled in the name of White supremacy and patriarchy?”

“I felt pain looking at that cake. It leaves me speechless and unable to articulate the hurt. That this was done by a supposed liberal group of White women comes as no surprise, because there is a long history of White people claiming to be concerned with the plight of people of colour, even as they work to support and strength White supremacy.”

I’ve been working on a paper about Hagar and Sarah in the biblical story and thinking about relationships between Black and white women. I’ve been thinking about how white women betray Black women. I’ve been thinking about how white and Black women can be (and are) not just friends or allies but lovers.

I can’t get enough “academic” distance to see this as art, because the mutilation of the body of a woman is violence. As a lesbian, the image of a woman’s body isn’t just a reflection of my own body, but is the image of my Beloved. And as a white woman, I have to see myself in the minister’s body, too, in her hand on the knife, and ask: what would I have done? what am I doing?

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