Art must be allowed to provoke

World Art Day took place on Sunday and the Swedish Artists' National Organization celebrated its 75th anniversary at Moderna Museet. The theme for the event was freedom of expression, the struggle against censorship and art's freedom to challenge and provoke.

As part of the event, artists Peter Johansson, Lisa Jonasson, Marianne Lindberg De Geer, Makode AJ Linde and Galleri Syster were invited to create a work of art in the form of a cake. As the opening speaker, I was asked to cut a piece of Makode Linde's creation. Given the discussions that have followed, I want to take this opportunity to give my view on the matter.

The actual purpose of World Art Day was to discuss and highlight the role of art in society. Our national cultural policy assumes that culture shall be an independent force based on the freedom of expression. Art must therefore be allowed room to provoke and pose uncomfortable questions. As I emphasised in my speech on Sunday, it is therefore imperative that we defend freedom of expression and freedom of art - even when it causes offence.

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.

As Minister for Culture it is my responsibility to safeguard the conditions for and independence of art and culture. At the same time, it is also my job to uphold the democratic values that counter racism, intolerance and xenophobia.

I chose to open World Art Day to turn the spotlight on art and freedom of expression. The Swedish Artists' National Organization chose in turn to highlight Makode Linde to bring attention to his anti-racist artistry. Through the ceremony, however, I became personally involved in Makode Linde's highly provocative form of expression.

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.

Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth