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Swedish Official Calls 'Racist Cake' A Piece Of Provocative Art

There's a growing controversy in Sweden over whether Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth should have smilingly cut into a cake in the shape of a naked black woman during a World Art Day event over the weekend.

There have been calls for her to resign and on Tuesday a bomb threat closed Stockholm's modern art museum, The Associated Press reports.

Today, Liljeroth issued a statement about it all. She says, in part:

"I am the first to agree that Makode Linde's piece is highly provocative since it deliberately reflects a rasist stereotype. But the actual intent of the piece — and Makode Linde's artistry — is to challenge the traditional image of racism, abuse and oppression through provocation. While the symbolism in the piece is despicable, it is unfortunate and highly regrettable that the presentation has been interpreted as an expression of racism by some. The artistic intent was the exact opposite. ...

"It is perfectly obvious that my role as minister differs from that of the artist. Provocation can not and should not be an expression for those who have the trust and responsibility of Government representative. I therefore feel it is my responsibility to clarify that I am sincerely sorry if anyone has misinterpreted my participation and I welcome talks with the African Swedish National Association on how we can counter intolerance, racism and discrimination."

For his part, the artist has said he was using performance art — he was part of the "piece," and can been seen in a video pretending to scream in pain as guests cut into the cake — to portray the horror of female genital mutilation. That's a practice that is still common in some parts of Africa.

Critics aren't convinced. They're referring to the work not as a piece of art, but as a "racist cake."

"In our view, this simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden," Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association told The Local, an English-language website about news from Sweden.

And in The Guardian, another of that association's spokesmen writes that Sweden is "the country where racism is just a joke."

"Most people would consider female genital mutilation (FGM) to be a deeply harrowing issue, and that its victims should be treated with respect and sensitivity," writes Jallow Momodou. "In Sweden, though, it seems it's a laughing matter, and that racial slurs can be thrown in too."

We're embedding the short video of the artist's performance below. Note: It is provocative and you may find it disturbing. So don't click "play" unless you really want to watch it. If you do, see our question afterward.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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