Provocation

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What art does is coax us away from the mechanical and toward the miraculous.
                                                     – Bette Porter
                                                        The L Word, Season 4

I love art.

I’m no good at it.  I have what might be described as the “Creator’s minimum” of creative ability – the least given to any one person without risk of making them a complete lame.  Which explains the countless hours, re-dos and brow sweat it took to complete the latest renovations around here.  But I digress.

I love art because it makes me think.  Which, really, is the same reason that I love any person or thing.  Pondering questions and reaching conclusions, as wrong or as temporary as they may be, is the essence of life in my opinion.  And art is so good at sparking those thoughts.

Sometimes, art makes me nostalgic.  Sometimes, it it makes me hum made up melodies and sway back and forth to my personal tune.  Still yet, it may make me look away in horror, shed a tear in sympathy, or just gape, mouth open, brain racing, words… forgotten.

I love the way that art provokes.

I’m sure you’re aware of the art that’s currently provoking the hell out of twitter, Facebook, and the rest of the known world – Painful Cake.

I like it.

Let me take a step back.  When I first heard about it, I was appalled like so many others.  How could that racist representation of the black female form being cut into by white people be at all meaningful or artistic?  And the artist as the interactive head of the cake?  Yuck!  I would have dismissed the story, the art and the artist as just another notch on Europe’s belt of strained relations with the African Diaspora, but I couldn’t get away from it.  Every blog, news outlet, and commentator was commenting.  So I kept reading and thinking and finally watched the video.

I was provoked.

All at once, the “art” behind the piece became clear in my mind’s eye.  The caricature of a black, tribal woman, lying there silently, devoid of life.  Her body in the form of a cake, something that is literally made to be sliced.  The head of the woman screaming in agony as each cut is made to her genitalia, bringing to life, quite jarringly, something that was supposed to remain silent.  The cuts being made by white women who giggle uncomfortably as the screams pierce the festive atmosphere.

Do you see it now?

I wish there was more about the artist, Makode aj Linde, a black male, than what I have been able to find today (anyone speak Swedish?).  I wish that the Swedish minister of culture’s remarks about art’s right to provoke, delivered on World Art Day and preceding the cutting, were available.  Sadly, little has been done to place the piece in context with either the event, it’s creator or the creator’s other pieces.  I have learned only that Linde often works in blackface, an interesting, and very political, medium.  One that can so easily turn people away without thought before the art has opportunity to provoke them to think.  The way that people have often turned away from Margaret Bowland.

Margaret, a white woman, has often been referred to as a blackface artists, but that is really a misnomer.  She, instead, paints brown faces white.  Specifically, young, female brown faces.  The images are beautiful, haunting and downright disturbing.  And if you read her artist statement (available on her website), you are left with the distinct sense that her work is a feminist manifesto, raging against the beauty mores of our society.

That is not to say that I don’t have some reservations about a white woman’s expression of disdain for beauty mores that really don’t effect her.  While a woman, she stands outside this particular battleground, commenting from a place of safety behind her white skin.  The same can be said about Linde.  As a European man, he stands apart from his subject, his genitals never at risk, his screams of mock pain a pale facsimile of true agony.

But neither of those reservations make the art any less artistic or valuable.  In fact, I think it makes them more so.  It adds yet another dimension to works which already have me pondering things that my mind might  not have otherwise encountered.

So yes, I like Painful Cake.  It did for me that which art is supposed to do, and I appreciate the experience, in spite of the discomfort.  In fact, I would argue that it was art, in the sense of provocation, for most of us.  It lit a fire in our collective consciousness.  The question is whether we will allow that flame to illuminate, destroy or be snuffed out .

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