Painting of Hitler was misinterpreted, says artist banned from Fringe Fest

Warning: This story contains images some may find offensive.

Warning: This story contains images some may find offensive

The Saskatoon Fringe Festival runs until Aug. 10. (Rebecca Zakreski/Saskatoon Fringe Festival )

An artist has been banned from selling her paintings at Saskatoon's Fringe Festival for displaying a piece of art that featured Adolf Hitler and swastikas. 

Festival organizers issued a letter to other street vendors on Aug. 3 after Shannon Gauthier, who is not named in the letter, was removed from the festival. 

"We take violations of the Vendor Agreement and the Code of Conduct seriously, and while our first recourse will always be to try to resolve matters directly with a vendor, when it becomes apparent that we will not be able to do so successfully, we must take appropriate action to protect the festival, our guests, and our other vendors," the letter said.

It noted the Fringe has the "utmost respect" for its vendors.

This piece by Gauthier was not the one that led to her being banned from Fringe. However, she says she's displayed this image, and others like it, at the festival in the past. (Supplied/Shannon Gauthier )

"Removing a vendor is rarely required, and please know that we do not do so lightly," the letter explained. 

Gauthier, who has been selling art at the festival for the last nine years, said the work was misinterpreted.

She said title of the controversial piece is "Never Again."

CBC Saskatoon asked Gauthier to provide a photo of the painting in question, but she said the piece has been sold and is no longer in her possession. It's said to have depicted Adolf Hitler behind a haze of smoke with bleeding eyes and a red hole in his forehead surrounded by swastikas.

Gauthier said it was supposed to be an anti-Nazi piece of work. Gauthier said the title of the painting was displayed on a piece of paper in front of the work, but that the title card disappeared throughout the course of the day. 

"Instead of them asking me about the painting and what it meant, they just assumed it meant something else," she said.

Gauthier also claimed a woman at her booth was harassing her and telling people around her not to purchase her art. She said both she and the complainant approached festival staff to express concerns. Gauthier was then told to remove the piece.

She claims she "fully cooperated" with organizers and removed the painting, alongside other pieces of art that she thought may be deemed offensive. She said she also tried to rectify the situation with organizers and the woman who complained, apologizing to both.

Gauthier said she's hoping to appeal the festival's decision. 

"I've already explained to them the meaning of the painting, but I'd like them to maybe be a little bit more open-minded," she said. "It's the Fringe Festival and I think if they're going to censor my stuff and just point the finger at me for being inappropriate, I think they need to revise many of the shows that they put on."

25th Street Theatre, which organizes the Fringe Festival, said it was advised by legal counsel not to comment on the situation. However, a member of the board of directors confirmed they had received a letter from Gauthier on Thursday morning.

Gauther claimed she's displayed controversial pieces of art at the Fringe in the past, including an image of Winnie the Pooh with a swastika armband.

Gordon Snelgrove Gallery director Marcus Miller says artists have to provide context when they're using loaded symbols like swastikas. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Marcus Miller, who is the director of the Gordon Snelgrove Gallery, said he's usually an advocate for artists pushing limits and boundaries, but he feels in this case, the Fringe made the right decision.

"I'm very careful to condemn any artists for putting out any image at all, but when you are putting your art out there in public, the onus is on the artist, on the gallery, on the institution to give that piece some context so that it's not misinterpreted."

He said the piece was on display on the street, as opposed to in a gallery, which should also be taken into consideration by artists, as people are going into galleries with an artistic or poetic mindset, but that might not be the case when they're seeing art on the street.

"People can interpret things in any way they want," he said. "And the onus is on the artist here to make sure that that interpretation goes the way they want it to go, or they've screwed up."

He said artists have to be careful when using such loaded symbols, because without the proper framing or context, they could be seen as supporting causes like Nazism.


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