Leading Russian artists and cultural figures have rallied together to raise funds for Yulia Tsvetkova, a LGBTQ activist-artist who is facing six years in prison for posting feminist drawings.
The artist Dmitry Gutov and the auction house owner Vladimir Ovcharenko launched the fund-raising effort on Facebook last week to mark the birthday of Tsvetkova’s mother and main advocate Ann Khodyreva, who has been raising awareness of three concurrent court cases against the 28-year-old artist in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a military-industrial city in the Russian Far East. Hearings for the cases will resume in February.
Khodyreva described the situation as “a prolonged hell.” The criminal trial is closed to the press and the public.
Tsvetkova first attracted the attention of local authorities in 2019 when she ran a children’s theater group that staged a play addressing gender issues. In 2020, after the investigation began and she had spent months under house arrest, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam acquired 15 of her works, including some of the body positive drawings for which she came under fire.
In the Facebook post, Gutov describes the case as a “severe criminal trial” against Tsvetkova and lamented the prohibitive costs for her defense. “I know for sure that a huge number of our best artists would give works for a charity auction to help Yulia.” Alternatively, he suggested, a collector could forward to cover Tsvetkova’s costs and be repaid with artworks.
To Gutov’s surprise, such a collector, who wished to remain anonymous, appeared within minutes, and numerous artists started offering their works, including some of the most famous names in Russian contemporary art such as Aidan Salakhova, Vladimir Dubossarsky and Anatoly Osmolovsky.
“When I wrote [my post], I wasn’t counting on anything,” Gutov tells The Art Newspaper. “It was more or less clear to me that artists are ready to give works. But that someone would want to help with money was not at all expected.”
Ovcharenko immediately took to organising the sale, due to be held on 26 February, at his Vladey auction house . He tells The Art Newspaper that in addition to Dubossarsky, participating artists also include Sergei Bratkov and Gutov himself.
“Being prosecuted for art and being threatened with six years in prison for drawings is unacceptable. If hardcore porn is allowed in Yandex or VKontakte searches, and it is not punishable, why is a defenseless artist being persecuted?”, Ovcharenko asks.
Khodyreva, who often writes about the desperate isolation of fighting the charges in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, says “it was my most magical birthday” and described the support of Gutov and other artists as “more like a dream than reality.”
“The fact that so many artists have stood with us at least lets us know that we are not alone,” Khodyreva says. “And, as someone correctly wrote [in the comments on Facebook] that it doesn’t matter whether you like Yulia’s work or not, the situation is unjust and awful. Yulia is the first one, next they can come for anyone."