‘A sick joke’: Italy’s Serie A monkey artwork condemned as racist

Football league says painting showing three monkeys represents three different races, adding ‘true art is provocation’.

Italy football
Serie A used an artwork depicting three monkeys as part of an anti-racism campaign, drawing condemnation [File: Daniele Mascolo/Reuters]

A painting at Italy‘s Serie A football headquarters that features three monkeys and is supposed to be part of the top-flight league’s anti-racism campaign, has drawn widespread condemnation for being racist and insensitive.

The work, by artist Simone Fugazzotto, is supposed to represent three different ethnicities and convey the idea that whoever shouts racist chants regresses to a primitive status, the league said in a statement to the Associated Press news agency late on Monday.

The league used the artwork at a presentation of its anti-racism campaign in Milan.

“True art is provocation,” it said.

Racism has been a problem all season in the Italian league with offensive chants aimed at Romelu Lukaku, Franck Kessie, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira, Kalidou Koulibaly and Mario Balotelli.

All of the players targeted – except for Pjanic – are black, and many of the incidents have gone unpunished.

Serie A decided that every year it will have a different artist interpret the damage caused by racism, the league said.

It noted that Fugazzotto had witnessed the whistles at Napoli defender Koulibaly at the San Siro, and that the monkeys depicted the racist fans.

The artist said his painting was meant “to show that we are all the same race.”

Fare, football’s leading discrimination monitoring group, called it “a sick joke.”

“Once again Italian football leaves the world speechless,” Fare tweeted.

“In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week Serie A have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.”

The painting was made for last season’s Italian Cup final.

“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,” Fugazzotto said.

“My paintings fully reflect the values of fair play and tolerance. I use monkeys as a metaphor for human beings because the colour of our skin is not important.”

‘Endemic’ racism

Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo said the league’s commitment against prejudice was strong.

“We know that racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three different levels; the cultural one, through works like that of Simone; the sporting one, with a series of initiatives together with clubs and players, and the repressive one, thanks to collaboration with the police,” De Siervo said.

But Fare called the painting “an outrage,” adding that it “will be counterproductive and continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage … It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult? It is time for the progressive clubs in the league to make their voice heard.”

Also during the presentation of anti-racism initiatives on Monday, De Siervo said league officials were developing facial recognition technology to identify fans responsible for racist chants.

“We’re working on facial recognition software to use inside the stadiums,” he said.

“We’re still awaiting authorisation from privacy authorities but we should be able to get that with the help of the government. Once those images are available, clubs will have to intervene directly.”

The league also nominated one player from each of the 20 clubs to join an anti-racism team.

“We’re going to do in two years what (former British prime minister Margaret) Thatcher did in 10,” De Siervo said, referring to the battle against hooliganism in English stadiums in the 1980s.

Also this season, the Italian football federation said it was considering employing advanced listening devices used in anti-terrorism operations to identify offending fans.

Source: AP