Why Do Some Facebook Users Think This Strawberry Festival Poster Is Racist?

On Tuesday, the organizers of Ponchatoula’s famous Strawberry Festival unveiled this year’s poster. To say it has ignited a firestorm is an understatement.

The Advocate reports festival organizers are drawing complaints both online and offline over it.

A painting of two black children that appears on posters for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival has drawn comparisons to pickaninny stereotypes and other racist depictions of black people.

Festival leadership unveiled the poster Tuesday night and posted photos to Facebook the following day, where many users said they found the painting distasteful.

[…] To Pat Morris, the painting is a reminder of blackface performers and a time when black children worked the fields instead of going to school.

“I know what that poster represents. … It is offensive. It is distasteful,” said Morris, president of the Greater Tangipahoa Parish NAACP branch.

Here’s a picture of the poster.



As of writing, the Facebook post announcing the post has 155 likes and 175 comments. The comments are mixed with some who like the poster and others who think it is racist.

The artist, Kalle’ Siekkinen, appears to use the shapeless black face as a theme of many of his paintings. His portfolio features many paintings with it as an homage to Southern culture. Siekkinen’s paintings are abstract art and shapeless features are the norm in it.

The Strawberry Festival organizers are standing by the poster and Siekkinen. Here’s a statement they released on Facebook.

Joint Press Release from the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival and the Ponchatoula Kiwanis Club
Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Ponchatoula Kiwanis Club coordinates the development and printing of the Official Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival Poster. This year they held a contest to select the poster. The Kiwanis selected artist Kalle’ Siekkinen. Kalle’ apprenticed under the late Bill Hemmerling, who was a world-renowned local Ponchatoula artist. Mr. Hemmerling was the artist of our 2008 poster “Sweet Olive”. The 2008 poster was immediately embraced by our community. Even though it is no longer available, it is still in demand today. Kalle’s poster was inspired by Sweet Olive; therefore, the Ponchatoula Kiwanis Club thought it would have the same positive reception by the community.

Art is subjective. It is interpretive. There was no intent other than to pay tribute to the festival and the strawberry industry. “Although similar, Kalle’s art is different. His African American paintings are free and spirited and express feelings of joy, happiness and laughter.” In a previous article written by Lil Mirando with the Daily Star, she referred to Mr. Hemmerling’s depiction of Sweet Olive as an “effort to build a bridge between cultures. Sweet Olive’s face is detailed in only a few of the paintings, but her facelessness does not mean she is nobody. It means she is everybody.”

We look forward to seeing everyone at this year’s festival!

Here’s a link to actual “pickaninny” art and depictions. It’s hard to see where this poster fits in with “art” that was vile and racist. I don’t think Kalle’ Siekkinen was trying to dehumanize black people with this poster. He was simply trying to pay tribute to Louisiana’s strawberry industry and Ponchatoula’s heritage.

People are getting outraged for the sake of getting outraged here.



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