Monday, 28 March 2016

Makode Linde: an inverted fantasy-world at Kulturhuset

n.b. Photography was prohibited in the exhibition, and these photos which give you a flavour were taken in the foyer 

I recently saw Makode Linde's installation in the Kulturhuset complex, right in the centre of Stockholm. How to describe it? It's a nightmarish, exhilarating romp through a darkly witty and sparkling imagination. The visitor is sucked in through a cave entrance that is a giant mouth and takes a journey in the dark through Linde's multiple-room installation. It is at once a gloriously grotesque Afrocentric fantasy world, and a sarcastic commentary on the representation of Black people in the media. Blackness is everywhere and Africa dominates. The dark space is carefully lit with fluorescent paint daubed around; hundreds of black figures loom in the dark, grinning from their teeth and showing the whites of their eyes. There are objects everywhere, on all sides and hanging from the ceiling; and combined with the darkness and fluorescent glow, white teeth and the visitors shuffling around, it gives you the sensation of being in a nightclub.

There is more than a little of the carnivalesque, with Linde's signature expression of taking dolls, toys, and sculptures of all sizes and making them into golliwogs: painting them black (not shade of brown like people's skin tones, but a true black) and making grinning oversized mouths with thick red lips. It seesaws between reclaiming objects, making what's been white-skinned black; and forcing the viewer to confront racialised dogma. Linde's world puts black people everywhere, in a glorification of stereotype that makes its point very loudly, very clearly, but with a malevolent chuckle. It is this sense of being so over-the-top and theatrical in the staging, the maximalism of it all; yet making such a salient point, that Linde is so successful. The truth is ugly, and laughter here is multi-layered.

Not being a local, I was unaware of the controversy & excitement surrounding the exhibition which opened on 30 January, and runs through to 24 April. Makode Linde is a Swedish performance artist who's caused a lot of ruckus. He originally wanted to call the exhibition 'The Negro King's Return', which was forbidden by the state-run Kulturhuset (Cultural House/Centre) and triggered a huge debate on racism and censorship. The problem, as far as I can gather, was his choice of the word 'Negro'; I didn't listen to the debates (since they're in Swedish) so I don't know if the concept of reclaiming words was discussed. Whilst I personally find the original title pretty funny - and very appropriate given the installation itself - I'm not sure if there's a difference in Swedish between the words 'Negro' and 'Nigger' so it's a tricky question. The exhibition now is just called 'Makode Linde'. Linde's work has clearly always been loaded and controversial, teetering off the brink of good taste. His best known work was a performance called 'Painful Cake'; before you watch the video, know that this was staged at the Moderna Museet (Stockholm's museum of modern art) at the 75th anniversary meeting of the KRO (the Swedish artists' trade union) - and the first person that cut into the cake was the Swedish Minister of Culture.

I believe that many Swedes would view Linde's work as a direct commentary on racism in Sweden, but from my international point of view it's a more generalised response to the absence of people of colour (specifically Black people) from the pages, plates, photography, paintings, toys, and sculptures of nations. The brilliant thing about Linde's work is that it still manages to be funny, to trigger laughter, as well as unease. And in the debate that he instigated, he's succeeded in getting the issue of racism and (mis)representation talked about and on people's minds - which is brilliant. He's pretty extreme, but he's a performance artist. I urge you to go, and revel in this world.

Makode Linde at Kulturhuset runs until 24 April. Click here for more information.

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