Organizers of Louisiana’s Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival have apologized after this year’s poster, which depicts two African-American children, was called “racist” and started a controversy on social media, WVUE (New Orleans) is reporting.
New Orleans artist Kalle Siekkinen, who owns a gallery in the French Quarter, designed this year’s poster, which he claims is meant to evoke a feeling. He claims the children’s images, though black, are meant to be interpreted as silhouettes and not African-American children, according to The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
“In my paintings, I’ve always seen [human images] as silhouettes, not specifically African-American. By using black, black is a mixture of all of the colors in the world mixed together, which all come together to make black…. It leaves the painting up to the viewer to decide what they want them to be.”
Regardless of the artist’s intentions, not everyone who has seen the poster has taken the black images as silhouettes, according to BBC News. Within a few hours of the Strawberry Festival’s winning poster design’s announcement, people were debating on social media whether or not the poster was racist.
Some drew comparisons to so-called “Pickaninny” ads — turn-of-the-century advertisements depicting gross caricatures of African-Americans, often children.
Patricia Morris, president of Greater Tangipahoa Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), points out that connecting two black silhouettes of children to the Strawberry Festival evokes a time when African-American kids had to work the strawberry fields in Louisiana.
“It’s as if they wanted to remind us of years ago when the strawberry fields were full of black families picking strawberries. The white kids were going to schools early but the black children had to stay to work the fields.”
BBC News writer Olivia Crellin also points out that depicting the two children in their Sunday best, the poster suggests a time when church clothes were the only decent clothes poor African-American children would have had.
Artist Kalle Siekkinen rejects the notion that race had anything at all to do with the Strawberry Festival poster, claiming that all of his other paintings in his French Quarter gallery that depict black silhouettes are accepted at face value, even by African-American customers.
“It’s widely accepted in the gallery by people of all races all the time. I have customers of all races, hardly ever has race even come up in the gallery where I’m present every week.”
Despite the artist’s claim that he meant no offense, organizers of the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival apologized for the poster, and announced that it will not be sold on festival grounds.
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