ARTWORKS that a Russian court found “blasphemous” this week are about to get a much wider audience.
In the wake of the trial of art expert Andrei Yerofeyev and the Sakharov Museum’s then-director Yuri Samodurov, a magazine called Russia! has announced its intention to publish a book, The Banned Art, containing the “offensive” exhibits in January, 2011. The book will also:
Feature all artworks banned from art exhibitions and museums.
The court found the organizers of the exhibition guilty of blasphemy and imposed on them a combined fine totalling Â£7,500.
A total of nine exhibits in the exhibition were found to have offended the religious sensibilities of the Russian Orthodox Church and related groups.
Among the artworks displayed were a painting of Jesus Christ with the head of Mickey Mouse, and another where his head was replaced with the Order of Lenin medal. Another was of a religious icon filled with caviar.
A complaint was filed by Orthodox group, Council of the People. Spokesman Oleg Kassin expressed his support for government censorship:
If you like expressing yourself freely, do it at home, invite some close friends. But from the moment that such an exhibition takes place in a public space, and especially if it contains insults, it’s no longer art but a provocation.
According to this report, “provocation” included specific warnings of the nature of the works, the placement of temporary walls through which the works had to be viewed, the prohibition of photography, and a notice that the works were not appropriate for those under 16 years of age.
Only one witness for the prosecution in the trial had viewed the exhibit at all, stating he had “glanced” at it. The remaining witnesses for the prosecution insisted that it incited hatred, without having viewed the exhibit themselves.
An expert witness for the prosecution attempted to set forth a definition of art which would, in his opinion, exclude the works displayed. He declared them:
Not anywhere close to art â€¦ as art is by definition about the cultivation of spiritual values and the concept of beauty, not about its destruction.
Amnesty International organised an unsuccessful letter-writing campaign to Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev requesting that the trial be stopped. The men faced up to three years’ imprisonment, but were fined instead.
The letter that Amnesty International suggested be sent to Medvedev pointed out that the trial was in violation of the Russian Constitution:
I am concerned that in bringing charges against both men and putting them on trial for organising an art exhibition, their right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in international law and the Russian Constitution, is being compromised. Art is a form of communication and of expressing views. It can provoke or please and often has more than one meaning. Freedom of art is an integral part of freedom of expression, limitations to which are set forth in international law. Neither Russian, nor international human rights law permit freedom of expression to be restricted or prohibited simply on the grounds that some people find the views expressed offensive or disagreeable.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn