An artist from Saskatoon, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, was banned from a local art and theater festival for attempting to sell a painting that prominently included Nazi imagery. She now says the work in question “may or may not have been a publicity stunt.”
Shannon Gauthier displayed a painting titled “Never Again,” which featured the likeness of Adolf Hitler bedecked with swastikas, at the Nutrien Fringe Festival, the CBC reported. On August 3, organizers of the festival, which ran between August 1 and 10, issued a letter to its vendors announcing Gauthier’s removal from the festival. The letter did not reference Gauthier by name.
“We take violations of the Vendor Agreement and the Code of Conduct seriously,” the statement read, acknowledging that banning a vendor was “Rarely required.”
Gauthier had been selling her work at the festival for the last nine years. She insisted that the painting was meant to have an anti-Nazi message.
“Instead of them asking me about the painting and what it meant, they just assumed it meant something else,” Gauthier told the CBC. “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.”
Gauthier told the CBC she had previously displayed provocative paintings, including one of Winnie the Pooh with a Nazi armband and a Hitler-like mustache, with no consequences.
Prior to her removal from the festival, Gauthier said a woman came up to her booth and harassed her. Gauthier and the woman both went to the festival staff to complain and Gauthier was told to remove the painting. Gauthier said she complied and attempted to apologize to the organizers and the complainant.
On August 10, David Katzman, the president of Saskatoon’s B’Nai Brith told CBC news that the painting was “repulsive.”
“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,” Katzman told the CBC, adding he viewed the artist’s claim that she didn’t mean harm to be “pretty naive.”
“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,” Katzman added.
A source who remained anonymous sent the CBC an image of what the individual claimed was the offending painting. It shows a large, graffiti-style image of Hitler positioned on the bottom part of the canvas with swastikas stenciled over his face. Swastikas also hover at the top parts of the image.
Gauthier denied that the painting sent by the source was the one she sold at the Fringe. However, she later posted a picture to her Facebook page that appears to show the same painting with the addition of a red dot on Hitler’s forehead and his eyes painted red. The image is also scrawled over with black writing, which reads, in part:
“Did anyone ask if I am Jewish? 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.”
The painting is signed “Ms. Insanity.”
Gauthier previously told the CBC, in its initial reporting on her removal, that she could not provide a photograph of the image, as she had sold it.
In a Facebook message to the CBC, which reached out to Gauthier for her response to B’nai Brith, the artist said that she and her family received threats as a result of her artwork. When informed that the CBC would like to report on these threats, if they could be verified, she quoted the rapper Eminem, writing “I have one comment to add if you’re going to follow through with this. Kiss my white naked ass.”
When the CBC followed up with B’Nai Brith’s concerns, she doubled down on the remark.
“They can also kiss my white naked ass,” Gauthier wrote on Facebook.
Gauthier, who hopes to appeal the ban, also told CBC the piece “may or may not have been a publicity stunt” and, according to the outlet, asked if the reporter messaging her on Facebook had any interest in ordering a commissioned painting.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture fellow. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org