When artist Makode Linde dressed up as a pastry depicting a caricatured African woman, he was doing more than just embarrassing Sweden's cultural minister.
You are supposed to be shocked by the photos of the cake, baked in the shape of a contorted, female, black body. You are meant to be appalled by the laughing crowd of white Swedes, egging on Swedish Minister of Culture Lena Adelsohn-Liljeroth as she cuts a slice from the cake's crotch. And you are absolutely meant to be horrified by the living human face, painted in Golliwogg blackface style, looking back at the chuckling crowd, and screaming in mock pain as the cake is cut. (The face belongs to male artist Makode Linde, who designed the cake.) The scene is disturbing, awkward, repulsive, even painful, and that's precisely the point. If you see that, then you're in on it. All of the people in these now-infamous photos -- excluding the face-painted artist underneath the cake -- are not.
There are two layers to the story. The first is the story of what Minister Adelsohn-Liljeroth and these other ministry officials thought they were walking into. The second is the story of what they were actually walking into.
Adelsohn-Liljeroth believed she was participating in an art installation meant to draw attention to the plight of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Africa. This is why participants were told to cut slices from the cake's bottom, an act symbolic of FGM, which Adelsohn-Liljeroth has worked to campaign against and which is a deeply popular cause in Sweden. The occasion was the 75th birthday of the Swedish Artists Organization, held at Stockholm's Moderna Museet. Artist Makode Linde had been asked to produce a creative cake to celebrate, and he explained this cake would draw attention to the Swedish Culture Ministry's work against FGM.