Two Russian men could face up to five years’ imprisonment for inciting hatred or enmity and denigration of human dignity after they organized a contemporary art exhibition in Moscow.
Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev staged the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in March 2007.
A Moscow City court will consider both men's appeals against the charges. The defendants will be told whether the hearing into their case will go ahead or whether it will be sent back to the prosecutor's office for further investigation.
When the charges were brought in May 2008, Yuri Samodurov was director of the Sakharov Centre and Andrei Yerofeev was head of the Department for Contemporary Art at the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and curator of the exhibition.
The exhibition gathered together a number of works of art that had been refused inclusion at various exhibitions in 2006. Several of the pieces had already been shown at other exhibitions of contemporary art in Russia and across the world. The exhibition
included Mickey Mouse, Lenin, pornography pictures, and obscene sexual slang painted on crucifix and other Christian symbols, which are to be observed through holes in a sheet.
When the Taganskii District Prosecutor brought charges against both men, he said that the exhibition was clearly directed towards expressing in a demonstrative and visible way a degrading and insulting attitude towards the Christian religion in
general and especially towards the Orthodox faith.
Amnesty International has called on the Russian authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and to stop the criminal prosecution of Yurii Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeev.
It was bad enough that an art exhibition attracted the attention of Russia's authorities. It was worse that the exhibition was
in Moscow's Sakharov centre and museum, one of the few institutions in Russia that stands squarely behind the tradition of human rights, exemplified by the saintly physicist and dissident for whom it is named.
Now prosecutors have said that they want the organisers of the 2007 Forbidden Art exhibition, the director of the centre, Yuri Samodurov, and Andrei Yerofeev, an art historian, to be sentenced to a three-year jail term for debasing
the religious beliefs of citizens and inciting religious hatred .
The prosecutors' move has aroused a furious reaction from the dwindling ranks of Russia's intelligentsia, and in the non-Kremlin media. In an open letter to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Yerofeev apologises for unintentionally hurting
believers' feelings, but also blasts the church for teaming up with hardline officials and rightwing extremists. Which, of course, was one of the messages of the exhibition.
Three years ago one of the leading Russian contemporary art curators, Andrei Yerofeev, organised an exhibition called Forbidden Art , in the Andrei Sakharov centre in Moscow, where he presented a collection of art works banned from previous
exhibitions. To draw attention to political censorship Yerofeev put all the works behind a curtain with one hole in it, above human height, so that in order to see the works one had to climb a stool and peep through the hole. Only people who really
wanted to see the art works of art were able to. However, Yerofeev, as well as Yury Samodurov, the director of the Sakharov centre at the time, were accused of inciting hatred and insulting religious feelings, and prosecuted.
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
This week the prosecutors demanded a jail sentence of three years for each of them. The verdict will be announced on July 12th. The trial was instigated by the so called People's council , a movement of militant religious radicals with
strong anti-Semitic views which claims to have the official backing of the Orthodox church.
Art 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 magazine has already posted pictures of some of the blasphemous pieces featured in Forbidden Art 2006?.
Censorship is supposedly forbidden by the Russian Constitution, although the past decade has seen attempts to reintroduce a
censorship body governed by the state or the Russian Orthodox Church, or both.
Forbidden Art , a 158-page documentary graphic novel published by Boomkniga Publishers in St. Petersburg earlier this month, deals with a situation in which the state and church joined forces to suppress dissent in present-day Russia.
With drawings by artist Viktoria Lomasko and text written mostly by artist and former political journalist Anton Nikolayev, both from Moscow, the book documents the legal trial of the organizers of the Forbidden Art 2006 exhibition held at
the Andrei Sakharov museum and community center in Moscow in 2008. The trial was brought by the Orthodox Christian nationalist movement Narodny Sobor (People's Council).
During the trial, critics found similarities with the Soviet show trials held under Josef Stalin in the 1930s.
Forbidden Art 2006 featured works that were rejected by Russian galleries and museums for political or religious reasons. The artworks were put behind a false wall with peep holes in it high above the floor, and visitors had to climb up
onto a bench in order to peep at the works through the holes.
Curator Andrei Yerofeyev and his co-organizer Yury Samodurov were found guilty of inciting religious hatred and were given substantial fines (the state prosecutor had called for three-year prison sentences for both).
Speaking at a presentation of the book at the bookstore Vse Svobodny, Nikolayev said he had the idea of documenting Yerofeyev and Samodurov's trial, which he described as a social comedy, because he felt it would expose the characters of
the people involved as well as new social trends.
Michelangelo's David and Venus de Milo may soon be required to don fig leaves in Russia, according to a new draft law proposing making erotic artworks inaccessible to young Russians.
Russia banned access for children to erotic and pornographic content last year, though the country's legislation does not provide a clear legal definition of either. Up until now, content deemed as having significant historical, artistic or otherwise
cultural value has been exempt from the ban.
The rule has spared Russian museums, parks and websites from the need to censor works of antique, Renaissance and modern art that depict nude breasts or bottoms. Moscow's Pushkin Museum, which proudly displays a replica of Michelangelo's David with
uncovered genitalia, held an exhibition of nude art just earlier this year.
But a new draft law on information safety for minors, published by the state media and telecoms watchdog Roscomnadzor, proposes removing the exemption for works of art.
The draft law is now for public discussion, for which no timeframe has been announced so far.
Religious intolerants in Russia have attacked a major art exhibit in Moscow, claiming it
offended their beliefs and was therefore somehow illegal.
Members of God's Will, a Christian extremist group led by self-proclaimed missionary Dmitry Enteo Tsorionov, vandalised the Sculptures We Don't See exhibit at the Manezh, a vast exhibition space next to Red Square.
During the attack activists shouted that the works on display were offensive to people of faith and violated legislation introduced to deter protests such as that carried out by Pussy Riot.
In a video of the incident one of the activists rips a linoleum engraving of a naked Christ made by Vadim Sidur, known as the Soviet Henry Moore , off its plinth. She then throws it on the floor and stamps on it.
The group's leader Enteo targeted a work by another artist, Megasoma Mars. This sculpture was titled Beheading of St John the Baptist #2 and comprised a series of heads displayed on plates. Enteo seized one of the heads and smashed the plate it
had been on.
As a result, four works by Sidur and one Mars were damaged, said a spokesperson for the gallery .
The legislation referred to by the religious vandals was a law making offending religious feelings a crime which was signed into law by Vladimir Putin in 2013.