Russia: The arts sector faces increasing self-censorship

Moscow artist Victoria Lomasko discussed the confrontation between her country’s orthodox church and Russian artists in an interview with DW, Germany’s international broadcaster. To avoid attacks from the Orthodox groups, artists and curators take cover in self-censorship, she told DW.

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Victoria Lomasko is a Russian artist who is most famous in the West for her cartoon drawings from the frontlines of the Pussy Riot trial, illustrating moments from the court room. In December 2012, her book ‘Forbidden Art’ about the 2007-trial of two Russian curators convicted of inciting religious hatred, was published in a German-language edition, and her drawings can currently be seen in a solo exhibition in Berlin’s Uqbar Gallery. An exhibition which closes on 14 April 2013.

Victoria Lomasko’s comics are chronicles of Russia’s social and political conflicts, and she is often compelled to pay attention to court cases, she explained in the DW-interview where she talked about her impression of the trial against the three women in the Russian punk band Pussy Riot:

“Everything that didn’t quite get expressed during the trial on the forbidden art exhibition suddenly came to the fore. Back when the curators of that exhibition were in court, most observers still thought it was nonsense or just some accident. And many artists also saw Yerofeyev and Samodurov as provocateurs who only had themselves to blame. There were many critical articles and the view persisted that the exhibition really could be offensive.”

“And then came Pussy Riot. All of a sudden, it was the opposite. It wasn’t the Orthodox activists imposing on contemporary art — it was contemporary artists who were upsetting believers with their so-called punk prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It was incredible how much was going on at the Pussy Riot trial! The forbidden art curators’ trial was attended by just a few journalists, primarily from abroad. But the Pussy Riot trial received extensive attention. It became clear to a broad public that the charges against the women rested on rules from the Dark Ages. Everyone was shocked.” (…)

“All artists were made to understand, ‘If you all dare to go too far, then we’re going to take you on’. But that only encouraged artists to do more and to criticize further the increasing strength of the church, which is no longer separated from the state. In return, of course, the government is going to sharpen laws even more.”

Victoria Lomasko does not expect to see peace made between the church and the contemporary art scene, she told DW:

“Even if we, as artists, didn’t do anything or show works openly critical of the church and religion, people will attack our exhibitions and our world. The other side is the increasing self-censorship. Many gallery owners, curators and museum representatives don’t even want to create an opportunity for those Orthodox censors to appear at their doorstep. They themselves no longer want to show certain works. Some people are using the situation to get press. Others are afraid of scandals and take cover in self-censorship. And even others want to become heroes by holding tight to the issue.”


DW – 1 April 2013:
Censorship: Russian art faces ‘increasing self-censorship’


N+1 Magazine – 19 December 2012:
Inside the Picture


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