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Bristol Post
Bristol Post
Tristan Cork

Guns and knives on St Pauls Carnival T-shirt meant as anti-violence message

A fashion designer who produced a T-shirt for St Pauls Carnival that sparked controversy and resignations has defended its design, saying the guns and knives were included as an anti-violence message.

T-shirt designer ‘Alright Mate’ apologised for the upset and said he understood why the design, which was officially endorsed by the organisers of the carnival and was being advertised for sale, with proceeds going to the carnival, had caused such a controversy.

Carnival board member Adam Tutton resigned over its sale, saying he was ‘disgusted’ with its design, and also because it was an adaptation of the St Pauls Carnival 50th anniversary mural, originally painted by legendary Bristol street artist Inkie.

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The controversy erupted over the weekend. On Friday, St Pauls Carnival’s official social media marked 50 days before this year’s carnival on July 1, with a post promoting a 2023 St Pauls Carnival T-shirt. It had been designed and produced by a Bristol T-shirt and fashion designer ‘Alright Mate’. They have previously produced ‘Turbo Island’ T-shirts that ape the Patagonia fashion brand, and he said he wanted to create a T-shirt to ‘give something back’ to the St Pauls community and to carnival.

The design was an adaptation of the artwork of a mural produced on a wall in St Pauls in 2018 by Inkie. As well as Inkie’s core design, ‘Alright Mate’ added broken knives and guns that were shooting flowers. Part of the proceeds from the sale of the T-shirt would go to carnival funds.

Within hours, Inkie called out the design as a direct copy of his own five-year-old street art with a post on his Facebook and Instagram. Inkie was commissioned in 2018 to mark the 50th anniversary of the St Pauls Carnival to paint a mural celebrating the carnival. “Embarrassingly St Pauls Carnival think it's okay to release this fraudulent version of my original carnival design,” he wrote, in a post that he’s since deleted, adding that Alright Mate was a ‘copyright loser’, ending with ‘absolute shame on you’.

He also called out the inclusion of guns and flowers, something which Adam Tutton, who is the chief executive of Bristol Rovers’ Community Trust, and is on the board of St Pauls Carnival, also took exception to.

In a tweet, that he’s since deleted, Mr Tutton said he was resigning from the carnival board in protest. “Regretfully resigning from the board of St Pauls Carnival,” he wrote. “Disgusted at the use of copied artwork by Inkie with addition of images of weapons. Completely inappropriate when promoting a community event,” he added.

In an email to his fellow directors of the carnival, Mr Tutton, who is Bristol Rovers Community Trust CEO, told them: “I feel I have no choice in this matter after waking this morning to find a tweet from the official St Paul’s Carnival Twitter account, advertising an unofficial St Paul’s Carnival T-shirt.

“Not only is this a fake version of the artist Inkie’s design (a close personal friend of mine), it may also be fraudulent and a breach of copyright.

"Furthermore, I was disgusted that somebody thought it appropriate to include images of guns and knives on a product advertising St Pauls Carnival. We are all clearly aware of the problems guns and knives have within our communities, yet someone authorised this image to promote what is supposed to be a community event,” he added.

The T-shirt was causing upset for two reasons - the inclusion of guns and knives, and for being a copy of Inkie’s original design.

Others from the community expressed their unease at the design too. Ray Mighty, one half of legendary Bristol music duo Smith & Mighty, wrote on social media: “Guns on the design for St Pauls Carnival is completely wrong. What has guns got to do with any festival?” he wrote.

What did the designer say?

The man behind the T-shirt's creation defended it on social media, but apologised for any upset caused. Alright Mate withdrew the T-shirt from sale, and explained that he didn’t consider himself an artist, and had obviously borrowed from Inkie’s design.

St Pauls Carnival's Instagram post launching the sale of the t-shirt on Friday, May 12. The post has since been deleted (St Pauls Carnival/Insta)

But he said the guns and knives were included as an anti-violent message. “I’m surprised people have got the opposite message,” he said. “As you can see, the swords are broken and the guns are shooting flowers. I wanted to give a peaceful message as I know that (I) have been (anti) violence over the years. I’m genuinely sorry that all this is happening. It wasn’t my intention at all,” he added.

“I want to extend my sincere apologies to the St Pauls community. I have never presumed to be part of this culture or to fully understand its complexities,” he said. “I also understand that some people do not want to be associated with knives (even if broken) and guns (even if shooting flowers) at all. I get that.

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“People have suffered because of this and I’m sorry if it upset people in St Pauls. My intention was to convey a message of love and unity, but I now see that I may have missed the mark,” he added.

He apologised to Inkie, but said his design was created ‘from scratch’. “I don’t consider myself an artist and as I stated in my post, that was a commissioned work. I have surely taken inspiration from the graffiti in St Pauls (which I appreciate a lot) but I personally think that every piece of art has taken inspiration from something else.

Inkie's St Pauls Carnival artwork celebrating 50 years (Inkie)

“It would have been stupid to copy from someone like Inkie, who is massive in the scene. I wanted to make a tee to tribute St Pauls, and of course I’ve taken inspo from that graffiti as part of St Pauls. That design was made from scratch.

“Anyway, as I’ve been living in St Pauls for years now, my intention was to give something back to the community, as I fell in love with the hood and St Pauls Carnival,” he added.

What did St Pauls Carnival say?

St Pauls Carnival pulled their Instagram post advertising the t-shirt for sale, and then issued a statement apologising for what it described as ‘an error of judgement’.

“The St Pauls Carnival planning team would like to apologise for the artistic error of judgement in endorsing a T-shirt design from a local designer on our social platforms yesterday,” the statement said.

“We have withdrawn the social media messages and Alright Mate has also withdrawn his messages and the t-shirt from sale. Alright Mate generously offered to share some of the proceeds from the sale of his unofficial St Pauls Carnival-themed T-shirt in good faith.

“We have today investigated the process taken in reviewing the design and the original endorsement was agreed by a former member of staff who is no longer part of the organisation. While we have robust processes in place for reviewing all collaborations, it is clear that on this occasion we fell far short. We will be reviewing our internal approval processes to make sure we do not make the same mistake in future.

“We would like to acknowledge that Alright Mate’s offer to support carnival was well intentioned. We sincerely apologise to everyone involved and to the wider community for the offence this has caused,” they added.

Bristol street artist Inkie takes part in a street art workshop and project in Freetown, Sierra Leone (Inkie)

“Understandably, some members of the community have raised concerns over the design, despite the intended peaceful message. We represent the coming together, unity and the celebration of African-Caribbean culture and strongly oppose anything with links to violence and the endangering of lives.

“We also acknowledge Inkie’s comments regarding the similarities between his original design for the Carnival in 2018 and the T-shirt produced by Alright Mate and we apologise to Inkie for any offence caused. Alright Mate has requested to engage with Inkie to explain his creative process, something we also welcome,” they added. “We will now continue to focus on delivering this year’s full carnival programme and look forward to engaging positively with everyone as we move forward.”

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