Moscow art curators await fate as trial over 'insulting' exhibition nears end
Date: 12 Jul 2010 | | Views: 1860
Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev face five years in jail in case that has prompted fears of rise in Russian censorship
A judge in Moscow could send two prominent art curators to jail tomorrow as a 14-month trial that has provoked fears of rising intolerance and attempts at censorship in Russia comes to an end.
Prosecutors charged Yuri Samodurov and Andrei Yerofeyev with fomenting ethnic and religious hatred and "insulting human dignity" for organising an exhibition in 2007 titled Forbidden Art.
The exhibition, which was held at Moscow's Sakharov Museum named after the Soviet-era dissident, featured several doctored images of Jesus. In one, his head was replaced with an Order of Lenin medal and in another he was depicted as Mickey Mouse.
Samodurov, a former director of the museum, and Yerofeyev, a former head of contemporary art at the State Tretyakov Gallery face up to five years in prison if convicted.
The exhibition was designed to highlight censorship and included many exhibits that had been banned from display at other art shows the previous year.
The defendants say their prosecution reveals a worrying trend of growing nationalist sentiment and the Russian Orthodox Church – which has called for the two men to be punished – meddling in cultural matters.
"This is a political case, which has nothing to do with democratic justice," Yerofeyev said. "This conflict has more profound and complex roots. The judge is experiencing very large state and church pressure."
A group of artists and rights activists sent an open letter to Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, earlier this month calling for the charges to be dropped.
The Orthodox Church has experienced a revival under prime minister and former president, Vladimir Putin, who last week spoke of its "enormous" role in "restoring the common Russian motherland".
Officials often turn a blind eye to conservative patriotic groups, whose members have beaten gay activists and attacked other art exhibits.
Samodurov was fined 100,000 roubles (£2,000) in 2005 for holding an exhibition called Caution! Religion! at the Sakharov Museum which included a Coca-Cola logo with Jesus's face shown next to it, with the words: "This is my blood". Charges were dropped against vandals who sprayed "blasphemy" on some of the exhibits.
Some observers expect a soft sentence in the current trial because Russia's culture minister, Alexander Avdeyev, said last month that he disapproved of the prosecution.