Jewish organization says Saskatoon artist profiting off Nazi symbols was wrong
B'Nai Brith says sale of painting with swastikas trivialises 'immense horror' of Nazism
A prominent Canadian Jewish organization is calling the sale of art depicting Adolf Hitler and swastikas "repulsive," but says a Saskatoon artist who produced some such paintings can learn from the experience.
Artist Shannon Gauthier was banned from the Nutrien Fringe Festival for displaying and selling a piece of work depicting Hitler and Nazi symbolism.
David Katzman is president of the Saskatoon chapter of B'Nai Brith, an organization which promotes Jewish unity and continuity, alongside combating antisemitism and racism. Katzman said the use of images like Hitler and swastikas to turn a profit is "absolutely not" appropriate.
"Whenever a swastika or images of Hitler are used to promote the sale of any item, it trivializes the immense horror of Nazism and World War II that claimed millions and millions of lives and left irreparable scars on so many families," he said.
Images still cause pain today
Gauthier was removed from the festival after organizers received complaints about her art, but she said the piece was titled "Never Again" and was supposed to be an anti-Hitler piece, claiming the festival has censored her and that she is not in support of Nazism.
"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 of Festival organizers. "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."
In a letter sent to vendors, the Nutrien Fringe Festival's executive director Anita Smith said the organization takes violations of its Vendor Agreement and Code of Conduct seriously.
"Removing a Vendor is rarely required, and please know that we do not do so lightly," the letter said.
Katzman said swastikas will always be associated with what the Nazis did to the Jewish people.
"For any artist to say 'I intended no harm,' I view that as pretty naive," he said.
"There are hate groups still who use the swastika and would love to have art with swastikas on it, but have trouble getting it, because people who think it through will not use those, certainly not in a public setting."
Art relying on sensationalism
A picture of a piece art depicting Hitler and swastikas was submitted to CBC by someone who said it was Gauthier's. Gauthier said the painting was not the one that sold at the Fringe, but later posted a picture to her Facebook page of the same piece of art with some modifications, including red paint on Hitler's eyes and forehead and writing scrawled across the canvas.
"Did anyone ask if I am Jewish?" the writing reads. "Did anyone ask the meaning behind the painting? No you just assumed. This painting was actually titled 'never again' but no one asked me the meaning behind the title. This 'offensive painting' was actually intended to be an anti-Nazi piece. Now what? Now all of the Germans are going to cry about it? #F--k Hitler"
Katzman called the painting "sensational."
"What's going to make that art grab people's attention is that something that's not supposed to be seen in public is being seen," he said.
Katzman said he applauds any attempt to to combat racism, but that the artist should have sought guidance from people who have spent their life fighting that fight.
Artist claims life, family threatened
Gauthier declined to be interviewed for this story, but said in a Facebook message that she and her family have been receiving threats as a result of the original piece of art that got her kicked out of the Fringe.
"I painted a controversial painting and this is just going way too far," she said in a Facebook message.
When told CBC would be interested in reporting on the threats if it could verify them, she responded with a quote from American rapper Eminem.
"I have one comment to add if you're going to follow through with this. Kiss my white naked ass."
She then said the piece "may or may not have been a publicity stunt" and asked if there was any interest in ordering a custom painting.
When asked for a response to B'Nai Brith's concerns, she repeated her earlier comment.
"They can also kiss my white naked ass," she wrote.
Gauthier said she sent a letter to the Fringe in hopes of appealing the ban. Vilda McCormic, board chair of the 25th Street Theatre, confirmed the letter had been received, but would not comment further.
Festival executive director Anita Smith said in an email Friday she could not comment on the matter because the festival has been threatened with legal action.