Scandinavians Scuffle Over Race-Swapping Artwork at Malmö Festival

Performance was meant to combat racism, but viewers call it modern-day blackface.

Through Different Eyes Photo: Anna Andrea Malzer via Global Stories

A performance art project by Danish theater company Global Stories has been pulled from Sweden’s Malmö Festival after a petition, which claimed that the project is racist, the Local reports. The project, Through Different Eyes, is in fact intended to combat racism. The work had previously been part of the festival in 2013 without complaints.

The Copenhagen-based theater collective hired a team of makeup artists who would change the appearance of volunteers so they can experience life from the perspective of a person of a different ethnicity or gender.

In an attempt to counter claims that the project was a form of modern day blackface, project leader Morten Nielsen told the Local, “This is a project that celebrates diversity. We work with make-up artists and provide all kinds of transformations: from white to brown, brown to white, man to woman, and woman to man. We are also looking in to transforming from young to old to address the age discrimination.”

After a Swedish petition labeling the project as racist collected over 200 signatures, the organizers of Malmö Festival dropped Through Different Eyes from the festival.

“We apologize if people feel aggrieved and we have taken the criticism seriously,” Malmö Festival organizer Pella Ström wrote in a statement posted to the festival’s website. “This part of the programme took an unexpected turn and we have decided to cancel it.” Ström went on to tell Swedish newspaper Berlinske that her countrymen’s reaction to the performance indicated that they had “advanced much further in the debate on integration and equality than Denmark.”

Nielsen responded, telling the Local“This is a very complex debate and I hope we don’t lose the complexity when discussing Swedes’ and Danes’ differences. I can understand how minorities in Malmö might have seen this as a blackface project, but it is everything else but that.”

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