Italian football — or, as Americans call it, soccer — has been plagued with rampant racism, often targeting the athletes. To combat the abuse, Italy’s top professional league, Serie A, commissioned artist Simone Fugazzotto to help design an anti-racism campaign.

Since Monday, when it unveiled three paintings depicting multicolored monkeys, which were installed at the entrance of the league’s main hall in Milan, the league and artist have received a windfall of criticism.

“I decided to portray monkeys to talk about racism because they are a metaphor for human beings,” Fugazzotto said in a statement released by the league, according to NBC News; the artist noted that he was inspired by the racist monkey chants hollered from the bleachers to taunt Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly. “There is no man or monkey; we are all alike. If anything we are all monkeys."

The paintings, each a different color, represent three distinct races, Fugazzotto said. “The western monkey with blue and white eyes, the Asian monkey with almond-shaped eyes and the black monkey positioned in the center."

Serie A teams AS Roma and AC Milan condemned the campaign on Twitter.

AC Milan wrote, “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.”

AS Roma echoed the message, saying it was “very surprised.”

“We understand the league wants to tackle racism but we don’t believe this is the right way to do it,” the statement said.

Fare, a network that tackles racial discrimination, also spoke out against the campaign: “Once again Italian football leaves the world speechless. In a country in which the authorities fail to deal with racism week after week Serie A have launched a campaign that looks like a sick joke.”

The organization tweeted Monday, calling the artwork “an outrage” that would “continue the dehumanisation of people of African heritage.”

Italian football has been plagued with racist abuse throughout the season, its victims including Brescia’s Mario Balotelli, Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku and Koulibaly.

Serie A chief executive Luigi de Siervo previously committed the league to fight against all forms of prejudice, the BBC reported.

“We know that racism is an endemic and very complex problem, which we will tackle on three different levels: the cultural one, through works like that of Simone; the sporting one, with a series of initiatives together with clubs and players; and the repressive one, thanks to collaboration with the police,” he said.

According to NBC News, in a statement to the Associated Press on Tuesday, the league said “true art is provocation.”

It continued, “Whoever shouts racist chants regresses to his primitive status of being a monkey.”

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