A Russian artist faces three years in prison for a sculpture supposed to “rehabilitate Nazism”

Oleg Kulik, a popular Russian contemporary artist, is facing a three-year sentence for a 2018 sculpture he exhibited at the Art Moscow fair last month. Following claims by Russian officials that the sculpture mocked a Soviet-era World War II memorial, an investigation is underway, with the artist accused of “rehabilitation from Nazism”. According to Russian law, charges of “desecration of symbols of military glory of Russia” and “insult to the memory of the defenders of the fatherland” can result in a sentence of three years in prison, three years of hard labor, a fine of 3 million rubles (~$42,000), or a fine of three years’ salary.

A screenshot of a Tweet from @nexta_tv (screenshot Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

Kulik’s sculpture, called “The Great Mother” and exhibited at the fair by Moscow’s Frolov Gallery, is a fleshy abstraction of a naked woman raising a sword while being dragged down by smaller figures. It was considered a mockery of “The Motherland Calls”, a 280ft monument commemorating Russian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943. It was unveiled in 1967 in the Russian city of Volgograd.

The head of the State Duma’s culture committee urged the prosecutor general’s office to open the investigation following the outcry from pro-Kremlin figures.

“It’s a pointed and intentional insult,” Russian senator Alexei Pushkov told the newspaper. Izvestia.

About 24 million Russians were killed in World War II. (By comparison, about 420,000 Americans, 450,000 Britons, 6.6 million Germans, and 2.6 million Japanese were killed.) Almost every Russian city has a monument with an “eternal flame” to commemorate the war. , and dozens have towering statues celebrating the USSR. victory. War movies are an incredibly popular film genre in Russia, comparable to North American westerns.

The Kremlin also has a history of using World War II as a political tool. To justify his invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stated his intention to “denazify” the country, among other unfounded allegations.

In 2014, Putin signed a law that prohibits “knowingly spreading false information about the activity of the USSR during the years of World War II,” a vague term that also prohibits talking about Russian war crimes.

Russian MP Alexander Khinshtein’s Telegram post accusing artist Oleg Kulik of mocking a Soviet poster (Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic screenshot)

Kulik, however, denies any political motivation. He has long made provocative art – he is known for his performances in which he acts like a dog and other animals while naked and on a leash, among other works. The artist said his 2018 “Big Mother” sculpture was not inspired by “The Motherland Calls” but by his estrangement from his wife. He contextualized sculpture in his rather questionable theories of modern gender relations.

“Almost all of the works in this series are about men and women, the conflict between men and women and their unbreakable bond,” Kulik said. Izvestia. “Modern women don’t want to lead a traditional lifestyle and want equality with men, and because of that there is such a dramatic struggle between them. It’s eternal love and hate , and the world revolves around it.

In an artist statement accompanying the piece, Kulik explained that the top figure in the work is a reference to “The Venus of Willendorf”, the nearly 30,000-year-old sculpture long associated with femininity, sexuality and fertility.

The Kremlin, of course, did not challenge Kulik’s dated views of the genre, but rather with the sculpture’s ostensibly “unpatriotic” message.

“I really hope that Mr. Kulik will lose the opportunity to show his ‘art’ in Russian exhibitions and instead devote himself to decorating institutions of the penitentiary system,” Russian MP Alexander Khinshtein said on his Telegram channel. Khinshtein said he also urged the attorney general’s office to investigate Kulik for a painting exhibited at the same fair that he considered a parody of a Soviet poster, under a Russian law code that prohibits “the desecration of symbols of military glory of Russia, committed in public.

In March, Putin announced a 15-year prison sentence for spreading “false information” about the war in Ukraine, and freedom of expression in Russia continues to decline as civilian deaths soar in Ukraine. Evacuations from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol continue, and this morning, Russian forces hit a strategic bridge in the Odessa region of southwestern Ukraine.

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