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A few months ago a grave spectacle of so-called art took place in Sweden where a cake of an African-American woman’s body (created by a Afro-Swedish man) was cut by the Swedish minister of “culture”, while those in the room cheered and laughed. What is shocking about this is that the cake was created to look like a black face caricature of a Black woman and the cake was cut where the reproductive organs would be. This cake is known as the “Venus Hottentot Cake”.
Sarah “Saartjie” Baartman, a slave, became known as “Venus Hottentot” and was taken to Europe to have her body exhibited. She was sometimes kept as an animal in a zoo and the cake looked like a caricature of her likeness. This was not art but a barbaric reenactment of female genital mutilation and yet another example of how the Black woman’s womb is under attack.
I have written about the high incidents of fibroids among Black women and though diet plays a great role in this health crisis, stress, psycho-social and spiritual issues also play a role in reproductive heath. Though we may feel that all is well and that we are seen as fully human, a quick look around in the media, music and now art shows that the Black woman’s sexuality is still being used to sell everything and her womb is still being exploited. Sadly this art was created by an African-Swedish man who has made weak attempts to address the criticism of this art “exhibit” Dr. Claudette Carrwrote an open letter from African Women to the Minister Of Cultureto address this travesty. In the letter Dr. Carr states:
Internalized racism has been one of the primary means by which we are constantly forced to perpetuate and collude in our own oppression and the oppression of others of our race. In the case of the “Venus Hottentot Cake”, equally devastating is that the artist Makode Aj Linde is Afro-Swedish. His own head adorned with long locks forms that of the naked Black woman in the cake, lying motionless on a table in a room surrounded by a laughing crowd. Not one Black woman, not one Black person in the room, except the artist and his cake. Makode Aj Linde is seen with a blackened face screaming with pain each time a Swedish guest cuts a slice from the cake. We are horrified as we try to make sense of this artist’s actions and we are perplexed by his explanation of the art as an awareness raising piece on the “practice of female genital mutilation” in certain African communities, or a practice that many African women’s rights defenders have come to rename female genital cutting (FGC). The moment that cake was presented; the moment that cake was eaten; the moment that cake caused joy and excitement, re-opening the marvel that white Europeans felt at exploiting African women’s bodies—specifically, the sexualized celebration, the entrapment, the cutting of the genitalia of the Sara Baartman -like black body, the ethics of the artist comes into serious question, even if not the art itself, for the sake of “art”, for the sake of non-censorship. Racism was propped up in its ugliest form, facilitated by a Black artist and perpetuated on the representation of the body of a Black female.”
This incident not only brings up the history of “Venus Hottentot” but the history of western medicine where Black women were mutilated for gynecological “research”, this history is recounted in by Harriet A. Washington, “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present”. Though we should be outraged by the Swedish Minister of Culture we also have to interrogate how a man of African descent could create and facilitate this for his “art”. If we are going to to attack rappers for calling Black women bitches and hoes we have to critique all artist and men who disrespect Black women. We also have to teach Black women the history of how our bodies were exploited so that they do not willingly sign-up to be modern day Venus Hottentots in music videos or magazines. Sarah “Sarrtjie” Baartman was promised wealth and fame for traveling to Europe but she was not told of the exploitation that faced her. Today many of our video models and musicians are promised wealth for exploiting their bodies but most often this wealth and fame are just smoke screen and mirrors and the cycle continues.
This is an example of what can happen when art is created devoid of spirituality, social responsibility and cultural sensitivity but it also an example of the ways in which these scripts of racism, sexism, internalized racial oppression and disrespect of Black womanhood are deeply embedded into our culture on conscious and subconscious levels. As much as things appear to have changed they have stayed the same and if we are not conscious we can all play into the scripts that have been laid out by this racist culture.