Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Conversation That Never Was

At this point in my life I've been told more times than I can count to 1.) think before I speak, 2.) think before I act 3.) do my own research and 4.) don't jump to conclusions about what I see on the internet. 

By now, many of you have seen, read or heard about the Great Swedish Cake Controversy of 2012.  If you haven’t, allow me to direct you to the only article I’ve read that makes an effort to examine the facts and remain unbiased by the immediate assumption of racism.

I’ve seen the now infamous picture of a crowd of white people laughing as the cake in the shape of a naked black woman’s body is carved for their pleasure.  I’ve seen the crumbs of red velvet cake run like rivers of blood as slice after slice is made into her body, a body that offers pleasure to those amassed to view her. I’ve thought about the racism that such an image implies.

And, from that vantage point, it seems like another issue of white vs. black, of racism in its most abhorrent, overt form. And if you take that picture as the alpha and omega of things that occurred in a Swedish museum that day, then you’ll see it that way too. But, what I’m going to ask you may shock you to your very core, it may cause you to shiver in disgust, it may even cause you to walk away from the computer screen to you get your sudden urge to vomit under control.

What I’d like you to do is this. Take a moment to think about what happened before and after that picture was taken.  Think about the fact that this image that’s come to represent “racism in its most abhorrent form” is merely a split second shot in a timeline of events that most of us can never know much about….unless, of course, we have a video

I want to examine this work of performance/visual art, the images that ensued and the anger it’s created.  Some have attacked the artist, believing that what he did was “racist,” whatever the definition of that word in this context may be. I want to ask,  “did this piece of art do its job?” Doesn’t the image make a profound statement about the pain and victimization of women in any male dominated society? Doesn’t it give voice to the trial of woman everywhere, the fight to have her voice heard in a room full of people that would otherwise laugh, point and objectify her with their finger-pointing and photograph taking?  The act itself, the cutting of the cake, the screaming initiated by the head of the cake whose artist is housed therein – doesn’t it make a larger statement about voicelessness and silence in the face of female gential mutilation (for the artist), and women’s oppresion, racism, othering (for the rest of us)? 

I think it makes all of those statements when you take a moment to really think about it.  
However, it seems that it failed in generating the sort of conversation the artist seems to have sought.

What I’m really trying to get at here is that – while we’re busy pointing fingers and getting upset over the image, we need to have the conversation about the  issue that it’s supposed to be representing. After all, isn’t that what we – the othered – always ask people to do? To engage in dialogue about the nature of the issue? Aren’t we always saying that problems such as these arise when people refuse to have honest, open discourse?  Why aren’t we teaching people about female gential mutilation (FGM)? Why aren’t we talking about what this image, what this cake, what the videos, etc, mean about the nature of being subjugated as not only a woman, but a black woman? The artist has opened the door, and we’re refusing to walk through it with him.

After watching the video, I can tell you that the visual makes me uncomfortable to the point of cringing and it makes me think about how much my cringing pales in comparison to the screams and pain of girls that suffer from FGM. But the people in the video were obviously not uncomfortable enough or aware enough of the stark reality of the differences between their own situation and that of FGM victims to forgo the temptation of some delicious red velvet cake, even as the plated victim screams in agony with each slice.  I want to ask these people – why were you more concerned about cake than about what it was meant to represent? Why didn’t the torment of the woman on the table and her screams speak louder than your need to eat cake? (And, while we’re at it, doesn’t this say something about the concept of “herd mentality?”) As you watch the woman approach in the beginning of the video and ready her camera – think about how it seems to be one big joke, one big assed spectacle.

The people in this video missed the point, and so, I’m afraid, did the rest of us.  So, to beat the dead horse, why in the hell are we so busy pointing fingers and not busy talking? 

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