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New Graphic Novel Looks at 'Forbidden Art' Trial...
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New Graphic Novel Looks at 'Forbidden Art' Trial
09 October 2011
BySergey Chernov<http://www.themoscowtimes.com/sitemap/authors/sergey-chernov/176304.html>

[image: Nikolayev and Lomasko pictured at the presentation of their
documentary graphic novel in St. Petersburg.]
Sergey Chernov / MT

Nikolayev and Lomasko pictured at the presentation of their documentary
graphic novel in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — Censorship is forbidden by the Constitution, although the
past decade has seen attempts to partly reintroduce a censorship body
governed by the state or the Russian Orthodox Church, or both.

In the most recent attempt last week, Vsevolod Chaplin, the Orthodox
Church’s top cleric for public affairs, said classic works by Vladimir
Nabokov and Gabriel Garcia Marquez should be examined to see whether they
condone pedophilia.

“Forbidden Art” (Zapretnoye Iskusstvo), 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.

Originally, curator Andrei Yerofeyev had planned to hold the exhibition as
part of the Second Biennale of Contemporary Art in Moscow in 2007, but
failed to find a venue, as every gallery or museum that he approached
refused to have the collection on its premises.

Last year, 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).

Additionally, both lost their jobs during the course of the trial, while a
strong message was sent to galleries and museums, warning them to avoid
dealing with controversial subjects, either political or religious.

A similar exhibition had previously been held at the Sakharov Center in
January 2003. Called “Caution, Religion” — an ironic reference to the Soviet
anti-religious cliche — it comprised artworks dealing with religion and was
vandalized by a group of Orthodox Christian nationalists, who destroyed a
number of the exhibits four days after the opening. The event’s organizers
filed a lawsuit against the vandals, who they said caused $15,000 of
damages.

The criminal investigation into the incident took a bizarre twist later that
year, when a Moscow court dismissed the case against the vandals as
“illegal,” and a case against the exhibition’s organizers was filed instead.
In 2005, organizers Samodurov and Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, an employee of the
Sakharov Center, were found guilty of inciting national and religious hatred
and fined 100,000 rubles (about $3,000) each.

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.

“Anton used to be a political journalist, while I was an illustrator for
political publications, and we got together some time before the trial to
make ‘graphic reports,’” said Lomasko, who co-authored a small book called
“Province” (Provintsia) with Nikolayev in 2010.

“We wanted to achieve a synthesis of text and imagery that would be so solid
and aesthetically beautiful that it could make the grade as a work of art.”

According to Lomasko, the two went to the hearings against Samodurov and
Vasilovskaya, where Lomasko made live sketches, while Nikolayev recorded the
developments and his own thoughts. Both recorded remarks made by
participants during the trial.

“We sat next to each other and said, ‘What a scene. It should be drawn,’”
Lomasko said.

At times, the trial resembled a farce. One illustration shows an improbable
scene in which the female judge sprays a group of old religious women who
have come to support the prosecution with a bottle of French perfume.

“When the trial was coming to a close, it was summer and it was abnormally
hot, almost 39 degrees, while the courtrooms are small rooms that they
hardly ever air out, and it stank horribly of sweat in there,” Lomasko said.

“Suddenly, Judge Alexandrova produced her French perfume and started
spraying the Orthodox women with the words ‘People should wash.’ And they
replied, ‘You go and get washed.’”

Lomasko said she had heard opinions that such scenes could only be artistic
devices or fantasies.

“No, they are all genuine incidents,” she said. “As to the comments, we
simply shortened them and chose the most significant ones.”

Lomasko said she was not sure whether it was correct to call them Orthodox
Christians.

“They don’t follow Orthodox Christian ideology — quite the opposite, they’re
very aggressive, they don’t want to understand other people and they call
for physical punishment,” she said.

“But in fact, we even grew to love them a little. Their appearances were
very interesting to me as an artist — how they looked, how they were
dressed, their gestures, their faces.”

Lomasko said she and Nikolayev were not biased when they started working on
the series.

“We didn’t come there thinking that the artists were cool and that the
Orthodox Christians were bad. Maybe they were sincere in believing that they
had been insulted [by the exhibition],” she said.

According to Nikolayev, the majority of those who supported the prosecution
were in fact deceived.

“They were set up by the court system and by the FSB [Federal Security
Service] men, who set them upon the artists,” he said.

“[The authorities] often scare the intelligentsia by hounding certain
marginal groups that seem threatening to them. It’s simply a tool. This
trial was set up to scare the intelligentsia.”

Last year in July, Samodurov and Yerofeyev were found guilty of inciting
religious hatred and fined 200,000 rubles ($6,160) and 150,000 rubles
($4,620), respectively.

In June, Yerofeyev was fired from his job as the head of the contemporary
art department of the State Tretyakov Gallery. In August, Samodurov resigned
from his position as the director of the Sakharov Center, citing
disagreements with the U.S.- based Sakharov Foundation’s board of directors,
who reduced funding drastically in the wake of the 2008 presentation of
“Forbidden Art 2006.”

Soon after the verdict,Patriarch
Kirill<http://www.themoscowtimes.com/mt_profile/patriarch_kirill/433913.html>I,
who has headed the Russian Orthodox Church since February 2009, condemned
the exhibition’s organizers, saying they were involved in “demonic
activities.”

“Forbidden Art” by Viktoria Lomasko and Anton Nikolayev is available at
selected bookstores.


Read more:
http://www.themoscowtimes.com/arts_n_ideas/article/new-graphic-novel-looks-at-forbidden-art-trial/445079.html#ixzz1aLhhZUoG
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