Censorship Exhibitions News Ukraine

Kiev museum director accused of censoring work by covering it with black paint

Artist’s interpretation of the Last Judgment was due to be part of a show celebrating 1,205th anniversary of Christianity in Kievan Rus

Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s unfinished mural Koliivschina: Judgment Day

A Ukrainian artist says that his work, which was due to go on display at the Mystetskyi Arsenal complex in Kiev, has been censored by the venue director, who covered the piece in black paint.

Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s large-scale mural Koliivschina: Judgment Day was initially part of the exhibition “Great and Grand” (until 22 September), which opened last week at the vast former weaponry store. “I did not have time to finish it, because the exhibition curator [and venue director] Nataliia Zabolotna decided to cover it with her own hands,” the artist says.

The work depicts Irina Krashkova, a 29-year-old from the southern Ukrainian town of Vradiyevka, who says she was subjected to a violent attack by two local police officers in late June. Krashkova is seen standing near a nuclear reactor.

“In the reactor are the elements of a classic scene of the [Last] Judgment: nobles, priests, rich fuckers and servants of power, the police and judges. There are also doctors who treat terminally ill patients and only operate on them for the sake of monetary gain,” Kuznetsov says. The work also features a copy of Michelangelo’s Jesus from the Sistine Chapel, along with Ukrainian pensioners and workers.

A spokeswoman for the Mystetskyi Arsenal defended Zabolotna. “In a subsequent interview with [the news website] Left Bank, Nataliia—while discussing the concept of the exhibition —stated that any art which plays into prejudicial viewpoints, (stereotypes, if you will) of Ukraine are not in the spirit of this exhibition,” she says.

“In a desire to raise the level of dialogue, [Zabolotna] referred to any attempt to co-opt the theme of ‘Great and Grand’, which focuses on the magnificent artistic legacy of Ukraine, as immoral… the insinuation that Nataliia only ‘allows’ art that does not criticise is simply incorrect.”

But Alexander Solovyov, the deputy director of the Mystetskyi Arsenal, says that he has stepped down over the controversy. “I think that censorship is unacceptable, even more so by [an] institution which aims to engage in and support art,” he says. The spokeswoman for the Mystetskyi Arsenal disagrees, saying: “His resignation was not conflictual; to characterise it as ‘under protest’ is inaccurate.”

According to the Mystetskyi Arsenal website, “‘Great and Grand’ seeks to examine the civilising effect of Christendom on the development of Ukrainian culture”. The show marks the 1,025th anniversary of the conversion to Christianity of Kievan Rus, the medieval Slavic state that was the forerunner to modern-day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. More than 1,000 objects drawn from 35 Ukrainian institutions are on display. Government officials attended the exhibition launch.

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1 Aug 13
15:35 CET


Again in Ukraine individual rights, here the right of the originator, have been disregarded and hurt. Moreover in judging by destroying the piece by Volodymyr Kuznetsov the institution itself has clearly crossed its boundaries and questioned its professionallity. Political art has been existing throughout centuries (e.g. "Political Landscape" by Martin Warnke). It has always been part of the art historical production. One should know and respect this as an art institution. There have been various iconoclast reactions which occurred in museums with the significant difference that the museum allowed this confrontation between the artist and the viewer as providing the framework an art institution should do. In 1999 "The Holy Virgin Mary" by Chris Ofili was shown in the Brooklyn Museum of Art and damaged by a viewer who got charged for this. Who will be charged in Kiev? Positively there is an active and well linked artistic community able to create the needed international awareness.

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