CAIRO - Sweden has been gripped by a new race controversy after a minister was pictured cutting up a cake depicting as a black woman at a party meant to highlight the cause of female genital mutilation.
"In our view, this simply adds to the mockery of racism in Sweden," Kitimbwa Sabuni, spokesperson for the National Afro-Swedish Association, told Sweden's The Local newspaper.
"This was a racist spectacle."
Culture Minister Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth attended an art event that was held to highlight the issue of female genital mutilation.
The minister was invited to cut a cake depicted as a naked African woman.
"According to the Moderna Museet, the 'cake party' was meant to problematize female circumcision," Sabuni said in a statement.
"But how that is accomplished through a cake representing a racist caricature of a black woman complete with 'black face' is unclear."
Though illegal, FGM is still practiced throughout the world.
In Africa, it is common in a geographical area that stretches from Senegal in West Africa to Ethiopia on the East Coast, as well as from Egypt in the North to Tanzania in the south.
It is also practiced by some groups on the Arabian Peninsula.
The country where FGM is most prevalent is Egypt, followed by Sudan, Ethiopia and Mali.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide are currently living with the consequences of FGM.
In Africa, the WHO estimates that three million girls are at risk for the practice annually.
FGM is internationally recognized as a violation of the basic human rights of girls and women and is mainly carried out on young girls sometime between infancy and the age of 15.
Many countries have put in place policies and legislations to ban the practice.
The Afro-Sweden Association called on the Swedish minister to resign.
"Her participation, as she laughs, drinks, and eats cake, merely adds to the insult against people who suffer from racist taunts and against women affected by circumcision," Sabuni said.
"We have no confidence in her any longer."
Playing down the uproar, the minister insisted that her action was "misunderstood".
"I understand quite well that this is provocative and that it was a rather bizarre situation," she told TT news agency.
"I was invited to speak at World Art Day about art's freedom and the right to provoke. And then they wanted me to cut the cake."
The minister insisted that the artist, not her, should be blamed for the uproar.
"He claims that it challenges a romanticized and exoticized view from the west about something that is really about violence and racism," she said.
"Art needs to be provocative."
But her defense was swiftly criticized by critics.
"It's extremely insulting for the minister to claim that we've somehow 'misunderstood' racism," Sabuni said.
He said the incident was "strange" but "not unexpected" in the Swedish context.
"Sweden thinks of itself as a place where racism is not a problem," he said.
"That just provides cover for not discussing the issue which leads to incidents like this."To participate in a racist manifestation masquerading as art is totally over the line and can only be interpreted as the culture minister supporting the Moderna Museet's racist prank," he said.