A Winnipeg artist says he’s starting the new year off on a positive note by turning a hateful act into a message of love.
Franklin Fernando says he woke up on New Year’s Eve to an offensive message. According to Fernando, the message included racial slurs and vulgar language as well as photos showing his painting, The Winnipeg Legislative Building, destroyed with a knife.
The artwork, which depicted a protest sign in front of the Manitoba legislature, was sold at a Creative Manitoba showcase in the summer for $300, Fernando says. According to the message the artist received, the sender bought the painting because he wanted to destroy it.
“I’m sure this painting took you some time,” the message read. “I made the 300 bucks to buy it in about five minutes… I don’t care about the money.
“It was a pleasure destroying your art.”
The message also used an ethnic slur to describe Fernando, who is of Tamil heritage, in addition to other harsh language, and a followup email was even more vulgar.
Fernando has spent most of his life between his birthplace of Winnipeg and the South Asian country of Sri Lanka, where he was raised. After reading the hateful message, the artist said that instead of being angry, he decided to try to turn the man’s actions into something positive.
“The guy clearly wants a reaction that is negative, and I’m not giving to him,” said Fernando, who responded by inviting the man to meet him over coffee.
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“An act of love is unexpected, and that’s exactly what I want to share with him.
“I know deep within, hate is a burden to carry, and love is natural.”
Fernando said that more than anything, he feels sorry for the person who felt compelled to destroy his work.
“I simply think it’s unfortunate,” he said. “He never met me or knows anything about me … I hope to share a positive conversation. Who knows? He might change his hateful thoughts to love.”
Fernando — who is well-known in Winnipeg as a singer, having fronted reggae outfit RasTamils for many years — has depicted a number of Winnipeg landmarks in his paintings, including the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Great-West Life building and the Law Courts Building. He’s also painted portraits of newsworthy local residents like Tina Fontaine and late Winnipeg Folk Festival founder Mitch Podolak.
In recent years, Fernando has been involved in creating murals around Winnipeg, a practice he’s continuing back in Sri Lanka.
Fernando said the response from Winnipeggers after the incident has been overwhelming and that it’s in line with the positive support he’s had throughout his career as a painter. It’s that support, he said, that makes him proud to be a Winnipegger and won’t sour him on the city despite the racism and hatred in the New Year’s Eve message.
“My love for Winnipeg just grew stronger, and I want to be grateful and thankful for everyone who continues to support me,” he said.
“I’m glad I can inspire others to love as well instead of hate.”
Ethnic communities in Winnipeg have a history of turning hateful messages into positive events.
In 2017, the Syrian community threw an open BBQ for everyone after a Syrian family’s fence was tagged with racist graffiti.
When Winnipeg was dubbed the “most racist city in Canada” by Maclean’s in 2015, the City of Winnipeg hosted an anti-racism summit later that year.