An Italian soccer league’s decision to feature paintings of monkeys as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign aimed at tackling racism has critics wondering whether it is some kind of “sick joke.”
Serie A, the top division of the sport in Italy, unveiled the commissioned artworks Monday following a series of racist incidents that have taken place inside the country over the past few months, ranging from fans directing monkey chants at black players during games to controversial newspaper headlines. But advocacy groups – and even some of the league’s top teams – are calling the images now associated with the “No to Racism” campaign tone-deaf.
“Art can be powerful, but we strongly disagree with the use of monkeys as images in the fight against racism and were surprised by the total lack of consultation,” the team AC Milan said in a tweet.
Roma, based in Italy’s capital, said “we understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don’t believe this is the right way to do it,” according to Sky News.
And Fare, a soccer anti-discrimination group, said in a tweet that “once again Italian football leaves the world speechless.”
“In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week #SerieA have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke,” it added.
Simone Fugazzotto, the artist whom Serie A says is internationally renowned for his paintings of monkeys, said during the unveiling Monday that his intention was to “turn the concept back on the racists, as we are all monkeys originally,” according to Sky News.
“When Serie A commissioned a work against racism last May I immediately thought to paint a western monkey, an Asian monkey, and a black monkey, because I would like to change people’s perceptions by my work,” he added in a statement posted on the league’s website. “My paintings fully reflects the values of fair play and tolerance, I use monkeys as a metaphor for human beings because the color of our skin is not important.”
Luigi De Siervo, the CEO of Serie A, added that the league wants to “fight any form of prejudice and we know racism is an endemic and complex problem.”
The league so far is standing by the paintings, Sky News reports, saying that “true art is provocation.”