Controversial Art, Part 2: “Art must be allowed to provoke”

This is part of a series about controversial art that pulls from an academic paper I wrote.

There was an intro paragraph to this section, but I can’t imagine leading this section with anything but this story:

One of my favorite parts of this paper is the example of Afro-Swedish sculptor Makode Linde. Linde is best known for projects in which he “paints black face on Western cultural icons. They are obviously about identity but with a shadowy sense of humor that feels discomforting in their absurdity” (Vartanian).

In one of his more extreme pieces, Linde created a cake for a performance art exhibit celebrating the anniversary of a Swedish performance organization. The cake is in the shape of a woman’s body, with icing the color of blackface paint. It is stylized with stereotypical African iconography, including African neck rings. Linde, situated mostly under the table on which the cake was served, plays the role of the piece’s head. His skin is also painted black, with his mouth and eyes outlined, in white and red, in the exaggerated fashion common in a black face interpretation of an African woman. The cake was intended to represent the act of female genital mutilation, or FGM.

Linde says the he’s “the first one to admit that it’s a disturbing picture but it’s also a disturbing subject. One of the main roles of art is to talk about these things” (Vartanian). A large part of the controversy involves cultural minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, who was invited by Linde to cut the cake. A photograph taken of the Minister feeding cake to the artist, as he posed as the head of an African woman, generated calls for Liljeroth to resign (Vartanian).  Linde responded by saying “if people can get this upset from a woman cutting a cake, can’t they use that energy towards the real battle towards female genital mutilation” (Vartanian).

This really gets to the crux of controversial art for me. It will undoubtedly provoke a response, but what is that response going to be and how can you help shape it?

The cultural minister released a statement that said, “Art must be allowed to provoke” (Vartanian). And she’s right; people freaked out about this piece, but Sweden’s talking about female genitial mutilation.

The people in the room during this event may not agree about Linde’s tactics, they seem to be in agreement that genital mutilation is a problem to be addressed in the Somali peninsula. Making an argument that supports Linde’s tactics, another paper draws to the forefront the benefits of interacting with difficult subject matter by way of visual art. According to Lankford and Pankratz, “human beings are also socially oriented, and thus subject to group biases of class, creed, sex, race, and nationality. But imagination affords persons the opportunity of going beyond their own egocentricity, socialization, culture, place, and time” (24). They believe controversial art forces you out of your comfort zone; regardless of whether you approve of the subject matter, you are made aware of your biases (24).

The Linde affair is a perfect example of this theory. Viewers were made uncomfortable, as was a larger cross-section of the country, but they were also made to consider WHY they were uncomfortable in order to express that discomfort.

It’s an exercise in shock education.

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