Serie A commissioned the artist Simone Fugazzotto, renowned for his depictions of apes, to produce the portraits which are supposed to represent “a western monkey, an Asian monkey and a black monkey.” It is a response to a spate of racist incidents across the country’s grounds in recent months.
Mario Balotelli, Romelu Lukaku, and Kalidou Koulibaly have been to subjected to alleged racist abuse from fans this season.
And Fugazzotto says a specific incident involving the latter during a match between Napoli and Inter Milan was the inspiration behind the works.
“Everyone was making the sound of monkeys at Koulibaly, a player I respect,” Fugazzotto told reporters, as per Ansa.it.
“So I made the western monkey — white with blue eyes — the Asian monkey — with almond eyes — and the black monkey in the middle, which is where everything comes from, this is what the evolutionary theory tells us.
“The monkey becomes the spark to teach everyone that there is no difference. It’s not that one is man and one is monkey. At this point, we are all monkeys, if they really feel the need to tell a black [player] that he is one.”
The artwork, which is on display at the Serie A headquarters in Milan, has attracted widespread criticism, including from anti-racism network, Fare, who described it as a “sick joke.”
“Once again Italian football leaves the world speechless,” it said in a tweet.
“In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week #SerieA have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.”
“These creations are an outrage,” it continued in a second post. “They will be counter-productive and continue the dehumanization of people of African heritage.
“It is difficult to see what Serie A was thinking, who did they consult? It is time for the progressive clubs in the league to make their voice heard.”
Another anti-racism organization, Kick It Out, told the BBC that it hopes “the league reviews and replaces” the “completely inappropriate” graphics.
Serie A teams AS Roma and AC Milan also condemned the campaign.
Roma, who earlier in the month cut ties with Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport for using the headline “Black Friday” alongside pictures of two black players to promote an upcoming match, tweeted that it was “surprised” by the campaign, and that it understands the league’s intentions, however doesn’t believe it is going about things in the right way.
AC Milan tweeted: “Art can be powerful, but we strongly disagree with the use of monkeys as images in the fight against racism and were surprised by the total lack of consultation.”
Serie A did not immediately reply to Business Insider’s request for comment.