Friday, July 16, 2010

Moscow Curators Fined.

Almost three years ago an exhibition opened in Moscow called “Forbidden Art” at the Sakharov Museum.  And this month the museum curators were convicted Monday of inciting religious hatred and fined. The 2007 exhibit was part of an effort to fight censorship of the arts, but the Russian Orthodox Church was horrified and brought the lawsuit against the curators. 

The exhibit featured several paintings with images of Jesus Christ. In one, Christ appeared to his disciples as Mickey Mouse. In another, of the crucifixion, the head of Christ was replaced by the Order of Lenin medal, the highest award of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Orthodox Church is very conservative and politically powerful in Russia and pushed prosecutors to bring charges in 2008 and then kept up their pressure on the two curators throughout the trial.

Artists and human rights activists have appealed to the Kremlin to put a stop to the prosecution of Yury Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev, warning of censorship that was very prevalent during the days of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union. The prosecutors refused to back down under pressure from the church and last week the curators were ordered only to pay fines of up to 200,000 rubles, (about $6500) but they could have been sentenced to up to three years in prison. 

Yerofeyev said the aim of the “Forbidden Art” exhibit, which showed works that had been banned from shows at major museums and galleries in 2006, was to show the reality of censorship. Religion was not the intended theme, he said. The Mickey Mouse as Jesus painting was intended to show the mixing up of facts in a child’s mind. A child hears about the Bible from his parents while watching Mickey Mouse cartoons and gets confused. 
The Russian orthodox Church is a very powerful presence in Russia today. “The church has become an instrument of censorship like it was during czarist times,” said Gleb Yakunin, 76, a priest and Soviet-era dissident who has broken with the church. “It wants to control culture.”

Like the US court case in Cincinnati 20 years ago, when Dennis Barrie and the Contemporary Arts Center were indicted for pandering obscenity just hours after the opening of the photography exhibit, Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment, this case can have a serious ripple effect on not only the art world in Russia but throughout the world.  

How many curators and artist with now take a risk and show work that could land them in jail and be forced to endure a trial and public scorn and ridicule? 
 Leonid Bazhanov, director of the National Contemporary Art Center, said a guilty verdict would make Russia less competitive in the world art market. Foreign artists would be wary of bringing their works to Russia, while more Russian artists would leave the country, he said. Maybe this is what the church wants.

This censorship battle maybe taking place in Russia, but as an artist I feel the heat right here in our country. What is happening in Russia is actually happening in the US today. The right-winged Christian conservatives are pushing their morality on the judicial system. They are using their voice and power to dictate their small minded agenda on the art world, persecuting artists who show work that in their eye is obscene.

In all the advertising hype over us being in a war they always talk about the soldiers are fighting for our freedoms,but this type of censorship slaps the face of those freedoms. We have soldiers dying every day to protect our way of life but the conservative cancer is eating it away from the inside.

Sometimes when I write this blog I feel like I am waging an unwinnable war with very few people supporting this cause. Show your support, visit an art gallery or chime in on a social networking site or my blog.

(Photo credit and comment - Yury Samodurov gestures as he and other human rights activists gather outside a Moscow courthouse during a court hearing of Samodurov's case. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, file)

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