An art piece featuring Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a banana in his buttocks and titled ‘Turkish dictator’ caused a stir at the Art Karlsruhe fair in Germany and was removed from the exhibition.
Gallerist Michael Oess said he took down the provocative painting by Thomas Baumgaertel, a prominent Cologne-based graffiti artist known for his signature spray-painted bananas, “to avoid trouble.”
“I have a certain responsibility toward other visitors,” he told German news agency DPA. A Turkish journalist had complained about the picture on Thursday, and later used his cell phone to broadcast live video footage from the public display, according to Oess.
A couple of women also allegedly voiced their unease about “desecrating” the Turkish flag, which was in the background of the artwork. But the gallerist shrugged it off as “a staged event” and claimed the females were “agents.” The painting was later sold for €5,900 ($7,200), he said.
Baumgartel, aka the Banana Sprayer, was outraged over the decision to have the piece removed, even “without him being informed” and tweeted that he severed ties with the gallery after the incident.
“It just can’t be true that everyone is tucking their tails between their legs as the populists destroy artistic freedom and freedom of expression” the artist told DPA. The fair organizers said it was not their decision, but that of the gallery owner, “to take down the caricature.”
In 2016, Erdogan submitted a criminal complaint against German comedian and TV host Jan Boehmermann, author of a satirical poem about the Turkish president “repressing minorities, kicking Kurds, and slapping Christians while watching child porn.”