A graphic poster depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping as “BAT MAN,” which was displayed in a restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden, has divided opinions on social media.
Filipino fashion influencer Bryanboy first shared the artwork after seeing it on the walls of Restaurant Riche in Stockholm over the weekend.
For nearly all of 2020, Asians abroad and in the United States have become the targets of COVID-19-related racism and discrimination stemming from the propagation of false information relating the virus to Chinese and Asian ethnicities.
Bryanboy, whose real name is Bryan Yambao, said he was “embarrassed” and “mortified” that he took a visiting Chinese friend to the restaurant, which he has frequented for over a decade but had not visited for a while.
“It wasn’t until we placed our order that we noticed all the huge posters on the wall — an illustrated portrait of a very yellow Xi Jinping with bat ears and the term ‘BAT MAN,'” the influencer wrote in an Instagram post.
“Ever since COVID happened, many Asians around the world have gone through so much racist abuse — for instance, on social platforms, I don’t know of any Asian person who wasn’t called a ‘bat eater.'”
The pair were the only Asian diners at the time. Everyone else was White, while the staff had two Asian members “but were Swedish,” Yambao recalled.
“It was just so awkward … We ate in silence and we left as soon as we were done,” he added. “The racism was so distressing! Am I being a Karen? I hate the idea of being a Karen but it was just absolutely surreal. I was in shock.”
Yambao quickly received supportive messages. Instagram users called out the restaurant and the person behind the poster, a Swedish artist known as Iron (@ironartworks).
In response to the backlash, Iron explained that they have typically worked with “hardcore satire portraits” and made a fool of people in power, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
They pointed out that the poster simply intended to mock Xi and the Chinese Communist Party, particularly their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tonight, my ‘BAT MAN’ blew up for being racist against Asian people. My intention was never for it to be. Though racism and hate IS [sic] a part of our time and that is included in the symbolism,” Iron wrote in an Instagram post.
“I can’t stretch enough how much I apologise for the people who got their feelings hurt by it.”
While Iron has “apologized,” the artist described the backlash as a “schoolbook example of cancel culture” in a statement to the BBC. They also recalled no complaints until the weekend, despite having set up the poster all over Stockholm for months.
“It comes from a place of ignorance — that he wasn’t expecting it to be racist or considered racist,” Yambao told the BBC. “I’m all for freedom of expression by artists, but I just wish that he knew what the repercussions of his work are.”
For their part, Riche announced that they had taken down the posters and put back a permanent artwork.
“We made a mistake, and have decided to take the posters down. Back is now our permanent artwork. We sincerely apologize to anyone that was offended,” the restaurant wrote.
Others, however, came to Iron and Riche’s defense. They argued that Xi does not represent all Asians, and, for his governance, deserves to be mocked.
Iron also received overwhelming support from Hong Kong citizens. They encouraged them to continue their art and urged “snowflakes” to “get a life.”
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