Officials in London's Redbridge borough were left red-faced after a library event designed to promote reading among kids featured a monkey character in a costume that included dangling fake genitalia and exposed buttocks.
The costume and the actor wearing it came from Mandinga Arts, a troupe of street performers based in Clapham South that has "a distinctive style bringing together live music, carnival, street costume, puppetry and dance, drawing on diverse influences from Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa," according to its website. The well-endowed monkey was part of one of the group’s walkabout acts.
Whether this particular style of costume was appropriate for an audience of minors is debatable. Many people complaining on social media believe the answer was a definitive "No."
Apparently this is meant to encourage kids in Redbridge to pick up reading for summer. Please tell me the rationale behind these indecent costumes that were shown to families and done so publicly. Is this really necessary? @Jas_Athwal @RedbridgeLive pic.twitter.com/6I8DBcmDM3— Has Ahmed (@HasAhmed_) July 10, 2021
I would really love a detailed breakdown of the commissioning process whereby Redbridge council commissioned the Rainbow Dildo Butt Monkey as a means to teach children to read. pic.twitter.com/RfVA42fLyv— Janice Turner (@VictoriaPeckham) July 11, 2021
Redbridge Libraries acknowledged the lapse in judgement and apologized for hosting the performance, but shifted the blame onto the charity Vision. It was they, rather than the borough council, who were responsible for organizing the event, the statement said.
The mischievous rainbow-coloured creature was promoting the Summer Reading Challenge, a campaign encouraging literacy and reading during the summer holidays among children aged between four and 11 years.
"Upon receiving complaints passed on by the Leader and Deputy Leader, we ceased the performance and are truly apologetic for the distress caused to residents. This will never happen again," the officials pledged.
Council leader Jas Athwal called the situation "disgusting" and said the charity had confirmed to him that all scheduled events were cancelled, but he likewise distanced himself from the controversy.
This is disgusting. I have taken immediate action. Upon finding out, I contacted Vision. @VisionRCL have confirmed that the contract has been cancelled, an apology is sought in the first instance and an explanation will be scrutinised by the council's legal team.— Jas Athwal (@Jas_Athwal) July 10, 2021
No it's not. As soon as I learned of this I took immediate action. I contacted Vision & they have have confirmed that all subsequent events have been cancelled. I will deal with this Monday morning. This was a couple of hours ago will not take lectures from a Johnny come lately.— Jas Athwal (@Jas_Athwal) July 10, 2021
This is not a council contract and the company responsible will do so, its their responsibility not mine or the council's.— Jas Athwal (@Jas_Athwal) July 10, 2021
The Mandinga Arts troupe has a record of working with Redbridge Libraries in the past. For instance, they participated in the Day of the Dead celebration earlier this year, and also in previous years.
Some of the online ire over the episode was directed at the Labour Party, which dominates Redbridge Council. One popular tweet claimed that the party members "commissioned" the monkey and then acted dismissive towards people complaining about it. Athwal, a Labour politician, said in response that he would not "take lectures from a Johnny come lately."
Redbridge Labour commissioned a furry rainbow monkey with a huge dildo and exposed anus to dance in front of children as part of a reading project at libraries this summer. People complained to Labour and were blocked and called 'lecturing Johnny come latelys' by its leader 1/2 pic.twitter.com/UTT1DZz5Jb— ripx4nutmeg (@ripx4nutmeg) July 11, 2021
Last year Redbridge Libraries had drag artist Mama G hosting a week of "inclusive Story Time for LGBT+ History Month" on its YouTube channel.
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