Russian blasphemy trial inspires the publication of a book of banned art

Russian blasphemy trial inspires the publication of a book of banned art July 16, 2010

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.

This image in the exhibition was entitled 'Chechen Marlyn'
The magazine has already posted pictures of some of the “blasphemous” pieces featured in “Forbidden Art 2006″, an exhibition which, ironically, was mounted in an effort to combat censorship of the arts.
The court found the organizers of the exhibition guilty of blasphemy and imposed on them a combined fine totalling £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.

Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev. Photo: Amnesty International
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 … 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.

Vagrich Bakhchanyan's 'The Crucifix'
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

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  • Broadsword

    Strange how Russia tolerates the hosting of kiddie porn websites yet pursues blasphemers with vigour. Were the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibitors were prosecuted using some archaic law that punishes those who ridicule sky faeries? I suppose it’s too hard or dangerous to go after real criminals and corrupt officials would struggle financially without their bribes.
    Off topic. Friend of mine just sent me a book recommendation. It’s called “The Bible” and some of the reviews seem quite positive:

  • kosmofilo

    The Russian government is developing its own search engine, which will filter pornography and everything else Russians shouldn’t be looking at: Reiman Confirms New Search Project.

  • Janstince

    And here I was thinking that the purpose of art was to hold a mirror up to the real world, show us things about ourselves we didn’t know and might not like. As the old saying goes, those who refuse to learn the mistakes in history are doomed to repeat them.

  • Neuseline

    Gosh, how times have changed in Russia. Personally, I prefer the times when all religions were banned.

  • Stuart H.

    Seeing the ‘Order of Lenin’ crucifix thingie makes me wonder if there’s a bit more to this. There’s been a trend in Eastern European art for around two decades for questioning the way Communism operated like a state religion and the setting up of Lenin, Stalin and co as ‘prophets’ -some of it very effective. You do wonder if a Russian government that trades off being in the tradition of a way of operating that us pesky westerners made the heroic comrades abandon finds such satire a bit too close to the truth.
    Another funny thing – that Oleg Kasin thing about doing art in private but don’t frighten the horses in public. As an old Amnesty member I remember sending shedloads of protest letters to East Europe defending religious bods who got picked up for worshipping at home. On the positive side, a religious nut who thinks you have the right to behave as you like at home is a step forward, but funny how they now automatically think public worship is a basic right, but not public art.