@Africasacountry interviews Afro-Swedish artist Makode-Linde about the recent controversy caused by his ‘FGM cake’.
“It all happened so quickly. It was horrifying, so aggressive, the scream,” Marianne Lindberg De Geer says. And for almost an hour, Makode Linde screams and screams as person after person cuts into the cake. People laugh. Some react negatively and back away. Some try to check if Makode Linde is okay, lying there in his cramped box. Some cut with happy abandon. Everyone seems to have a different reaction in the room. But no-one tried to stop it. “We were all complicit,” Marianne Lindberg De Geer says.
Me too, snapping away. We were all assured that it was alright, that it was art, that this was part of the performance. It was like the Milgram electric shock experiment, no-one stepped in to prevent the simulated pain from happening. I think it was a very good work of art. I feel I should probably apologise to Makode for ruining his work by spreading that picture.
The idea that it was a conspiracy meant to trap the Culture minister, as we first suggested in our first take on Linde’s performance, can probably be abandoned. None of the people I speak to–Makode Linde, Marianne Lindberg De Geer or organiser Pontus Raud–claim they knew what the other parties were going to do. Marianne Lindberg De Geer does say, though, that she probably wouldn’t have sold the picture if it hadn’t been the intensely disliked, neo-liberal Culture minister in it. “She has tried to force us all into becoming entrepreneurs,” Marianne Lindberg De Geer says, “so I decided to try to boost my income as a freelancer at her expense.”
Lying in the box was extremely uncomfortable for Makode Linde. Both physically and emotionally. “It was an experience of total objectification,” he says.
Imagine people standing half a metre from your head and talking about you as if you weren’t there. As a relational artwork, it was an artistic experience for me too.
It’s something he has experimented with before.
For a party that was also a relational performance last year, he painted twenty of his friends in blackface, and charted their reactions during the party and afterwards, when many had drunkenly forgotten their make-up and were surprised at random strangers attacking them in the street. Everyone’s experience of being inside the blackface (he describes it as if it were a shell, an item of clothing) was different, and in a way it was an artwork directed at them.
They got to experience race in a way they hadn’t before. And the aim was also to get them to experience what it’s like being Makode Linde. All of the Afromantics, whatever you think of it, are to a certain extent his self-portrait.
People always want to put me in a box. I’ve got a white mother and an African father. Whites always think of me as black. Blacks seem to always think of me as white. The media calls me Afro-Swedish, but I didn’t know what that was until last week! People seem to have trouble with the idea that you can identify with traits of both black and white, and with both male and female gender roles. There’s this categorization that frustrates me incredibly.
When I mention that he’s being accused of not being in conversation with the African diaspora, of only talking to whites, he replies:
Well, I am white. [Long pause.] And black. But I seem to have to be constructed as one of two. I don’t talk about black experience, I don’t know very much about what the ‘genuine African’ experience, in quotations, is like. I’ve grown up in the privileged inner city. What is my supposed group? Inner city mulattoes? They’re a handful. I’m not joking when I say I know them all … and they support me!