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Saartjie Baartman Revisited: Thoughts on Makode Aj Linde's Female Genital Cutting Cake

By | 4/17/2012 Leave a Comment

I think by now most of us (due to the power and magic of the internet) have watched the clips of Makode Aj Linde's performance art piece at Moderna Museet. Acting as the screaming head of a cake formed as a caricatured black woman, Linde insists that his piece was meant to shed light on female genital circumcision. Yet, I, as well as others, felt that circumcision was the last thing his live art was bringing focus on.



As I played the video over and over to try to grasp Linde's intention, I could not help but think of Sarah Baartman -- The African woman who was paraded throughout Europe in the early 1800s because of her physical appearance. Just as Sarah was exhibited for the curiosity and pleasure of white people, Linde recreated a black woman's body for the same disturbing amusement.

As I conversed and tried to unpack the video's multiple messages on twitter, I started receiving tweets from black women who said that they found no issue with Linde's work. They believed that his artistic integrity and purpose for the piece outweighed the jarring imagery that so many of us were taking away from it. I answered these opinions as diplomatically as I could, because I've come to the realization that if someone is okay with the desecration of their image I cannot do anything to change that.

Since learning about Sarah Baartman as a teen, I've become very aware and hyper-sensitive to how black women are portrayed by all groups --including ourselves. And in being this way, I feel a duty to call out and critic those who would take the initiative to present us as "Hottentot Venuses" or asexual mammies (as I believe Linde did). However, at times it all becomes a bit much: the awareness of an act of insensitivity, the decomposition of the act, grouping together to counter the discrimination, and then having to deal with those who look like you acting as apologists for the very behavior that threatens our safety and wellness.

As the week progresses, and the artists and attendees come forward with their perspectives on the performance, I am sure that I will have more time and resources to analyze it all more fully. As I've been so disturbed and shocked by the video I saw, I felt the urgent need to express my thoughts on the matter. I hope that this news item spurs conversations on the resurgence of mammy in our time, female circumcision, and the possible need of permission groups outside of us may require to tell our stories.


Valerie Jean-Charles is a 23 year old community servant and writer in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a BA in Political Science from Fordham University. Follow at @Empressval to join her never-ending conversations about everything and then some.
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