How an Italian Artist’s Misguided Attempt to Fight Racism in Soccer Completely Backfired

Simone Fugazzotto wanted to help. Instead, he made things a lot worse.

The soccer player Kalidou Koulibaly, who recently was subjected to racist taunts from a crowd in Milan. Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

An Italian artist is currently under fire for artwork he produced for an anti-racist initiative, which is itself being received as overtly racist. The “No to Racism” campaign, released by Italian soccer league Serie A, was designed to combat the discrimination that has long plagued the sport in Italy. Instead, it ended up sparking fresh outrage for featuring three monkeys painted in the colors of various teams. 

Bigotry is an epidemic within the Italian soccer world, and this latest move by Serie A sought to address a recent incident in which Senegalese player Kalidou Koulibaly was called a monkey by spectators in Milan. As a response, commissioned artist Simone Fugazzotto created the monkey-themed artwork, which immediately received backlash upon its release on Monday. (Fugazzotto has made a career out of painting monkeys in whimsical and unexpected scenarios.)

Though fury over the campaign has only increased in intensity since then, Fugazzotto defends the work, telling Artnet News:The message for me was clear. If we cannot stop stupid fans from screaming ‘monkey’ at black people, then I will try to reverse the concept by saying that everyone is an ape. Humans or apes: the important thing is we are the same.”

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NUOVO REGALO 🎁 👇🏻 . . L’idea di questa campagna nasce da lontano, era il 26 dicembre ed ero allo stadio a vedere Inter – Napoli, partita incredibile decisa all’ultimo minuto dal mio Hermano @lautaromartinezz10 . Sento (ma non era di certo la prima volta) insulti e versi di scimmia contro un grandissimo giocatore, era @kkoulibaly26 . Mi sale una tale rabbia che quasi di riflesso mi arriva un idea, perché non smettere di censurare la parola scimmia nel calcio ma rigirare il concetto e affermare invece che alla fine siamo tutti scimmie? Perché se siamo essere umani, scimmie, anime reincarnate, energia o alieni chissenefrega, l’importante è sentire un concetto di eguaglianza e fratellanza. Grazie alla testardaggine mia e di @fabicutri , con l’appoggio fondamentale di @seriea e #infront abbiamo reso realtà quell’idea nata in uno stadio mesi fa. Ho dipinto il trittico in un altro stadio, l’Olimpico di Roma durante la finale di coppa Italia e l’immagine è finita a tutta pagina su @gazzettadellosport e @corrieredellosport più svariati siti e testate. Se ci credete anche voi come ci credo io condividete l’immagine con l’Hashtag #NOTORACISM e seguite le stories perché posterò le tre opere che voi potrete mettere insieme (taggatemi sarete tutti ricondivisi) come preferite e il più creativo vincerà una cosa speciale. Grazie a tutti voi, non lo chiedo mai ma in questo caso si, CONDIVIDETE 💪🏻🐵 Simone . . . . . #noracism #notoracism #simonefugazzotto #fugazzotto #fugazzottoartist #art #contemporaryart #italiancontemporaryart #saynotoracism #weareallthesame #social #gazzettadellosport #rai #corrieredellosport #raiuno #seriea #different #eyes #same #soul

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Others involved in the controversy are taking the opposite stance. Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo ultimate apologized for the work yesterday, saying that despite Fugazzotto’s explanation, the work is nevertheless “questionable” overall. “What cannot be questioned is the strong and constant condemnation by Lega Serie A against all forms of discrimination and racism,” he told reporters, “which we are committed to eradicating from our League.”

In the same vein, representatives for the team AS Roma spoke out on Twitter yesterday, stating: “We understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don’t believe this is the right way to do it.” The team’s account also retweeted a post shared by AC Milan, which likewise expressed disdain for the images, and added that they were “surprised by the total lack of consultation.”

In an email to Artnet News, Fugazzotto said that he agrees with Serie A’s decision to apologize to those “who suffered my artwork as an offense.” However, he nevertheless emphasized that the work was meant to act as a weapon for the persecuted, specifying that he wanted to “give them a tool to defend themselves.”

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