Anti-Putin artists’ U-turn over Crimea
Co-founder of anti-establishment group Voina is “proud” of Russia’s controversial annexation—and he is not the only one
By Sophia Kishkovsky. News, Issue 258, June 2014
Published online: 12 June 2014
It will come as no surprise that members of Pussy Riot have spoken out against Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, but what is unexpected is the fact that artists previously known for their radical actions have come out in favour of the Russian president’s annexation of Crimea, and against Ukraine’s Euromaidan protesters and Kiev’s interim government.
Oleg Vorotnikov, who is on the run from the Russian police due to his involvement with the anti-establishment art group Voina (from which Pussy Riot emerged), turned down an invitation to Openborder, a cultural festival in Amsterdam this spring, after the organisers posted a statement online condemning Russia for “armed intervention in Crimea, Ukraine”.
Vorotnikov responds that the festival’s organisers were trying to use the art group for anti-Russian propaganda and “to display us before the international community as traitors to Russia”. He says: “The Voina group has a fundamentally different and opposite position. We are happy that Crimea has joined Russia and are happy for the people of Crimea. I am proud of my country, for the first time in a long time.”
Vorotnikov, one of the founders of Voina, previously painted a penis on a bridge in St Petersburg and overturned police cars. He has also been detained at anti-Putin protest rallies. In 2008, he had public sex in a Moscow museum with Natalia Sokol, his partner and fellow Voina founder, as a protest against the election of Dmitry Medvedev (the title of the action was a play on the meaning of Medvedev’s name in Russian).
The other couples who participated in what became modern Russia’s most notorious performance piece included Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, later of Pussy Riot, and her husband, Pyotr Verzilov; both were members of Voina before falling out with Vorotnikov and Sokol.
Also taking a patriotic stance is Avdei Ter-Oganyan, an artist who fled Russia while facing criminal charges after he chopped up mass-produced icons with an axe in a performance at a contemporary art fair in Moscow in 1998. Ter-Oganyan, who was granted asylum by the Czech Republic and now lives in Prague, has kept up a steady stream of Facebook posts in which he describes Ukraine’s anti-Moscow protesters as fascists. In March, he posted a photograph of his great-grandfather, Lazar Serebryakov, an admiral in the tsar’s fleet who was born and raised in Crimea and was a hero of the 19th-century Crimean War. “This is why I am happy about the joining of Crimea to Russia,” he wrote. “[Serebryakov] would be grateful to Putin. In any case, this is the only good thing that Putin has done. Now he will stay in history.”
The artists join a number of cultural figures dependent on state funding who signed a letter in support of Putin in March, just days before he announced that Crimea would be joining the Russian Federation. They included the directors of Moscow’s State Literary Museum and State Historical Museum and St Petersburg’s Tsarskoye Selo State Museum-Preserve. Notable for their absence are Mikhail Piotrovsky of the State Hermitage Museum, Irina Lebedeva of the State Tretyakov Gallery and Marina Loshak of the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, although 91-year-old Irina Antonova, who was the Pushkin’s director until last July and is now its president, is listed as a signatory.
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