Russian Artists Speak Against War, But Fear Retaliation

Young Russian artists Kirill Savchenkov and Alexandra Sukhareva were due to represent Russia at the Venice Biennale in April, the art world jamboree that could turn little-known artists into global stars.

Now, this potentially shimmering future seems to have disappeared.

On Sunday, the couple withdrew from the event, posting a brief statement on Instagram and Facebook. “There is no place for art as civilians die under missile fire, Ukrainian citizens hide in shelters, Russian protesters are silenced,” the statement said.

Raimundas Malasauskas, the curator of the Russian Pavilion, where Savchenkov and Sukhareva will present their work, joined them. According to a statement, the pavilion will now “remain closed” throughout the Biennale. posted by the organizers on Instagram.

Many Russian artists oppose the war, but few have high-profile platforms for protest, like Savchenkov and Sukhareva. Thousands of street demonstrators He’s been arrested in Russia since his army invaded Ukraine on Thursday, and speaking out can hurt career prospects and even lead to arrest or imprisonment.

Yet thousands of artists and cultural executives have signed their names on online petitions to express their industry-wide opposition to the war. Someone who calls for an immediate end to the conflict, More than 17,000 signatures on Monday.

This petition describes the conflict as a “terrible tragedy” that puts cultural life in Russia at risk as international partnerships may be halted and institutions forced to close as sanctions bite and the Russian economy falters. The petition states that “under these conditions it will be almost impossible to deal with culture and art.”

Their opposition was noted in the Kremlin. On Sunday, Vyacheslav Volodin, a senior lawmaker, directly targeted cultural figures who opposed the war, calling their actions “betrayal”. “If you’re that principled, start by refusing government benefits,” he added. Description sent to TelegramSocial media app popular in Russia.

Two contemporary art museums in Moscow suspended their programs in response to the outbreak of war, but both stopped criticizing the government directly.

On Saturday, Garage Museum of Contemporary Art announces it will “stop working” on all future exhibitions “Until the humanitarian and political tragedy unfolding in Ukraine is over.” Upcoming exhibitions include those by German art world star Anne Imhof and Britain’s Turner Prize winner Helen Marten. Garage did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Garage opened in 2008 by Dasha Zhukova, a prominent art collector, with the support of oligarch Roman Abramovich, the husband of the time and widely seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

GES-2, a Moscow museum that opened last year, made a similar statement On Sunday, he said he would close all exhibitions and suspend events, saying “he cannot turn a blind eye to the tragic events we are witnessing”.

The museum is funded by Leonid Mikhelson, CEO of Novatek, Russia’s largest private gas group, with close ties to the Kremlin. In December, Mr. Mikhelson made a special speech to Mr. Putin. new museum tour. A GES-2 spokesperson declined to comment.

Mr. Kjartansson said in a phone call that as soon as he woke up on Thursday and heard of the invasion, he decided to withdraw the piece. “Putin wouldn’t have thought of reopening the show until he was ousted and we had a bright, beautiful Russia,” he added.

Mr. Kjartansson said he has spoken to dozens of people in Russia’s art world since the war began, and they were all horrified by what had happened in Ukraine, but felt that few could say anything publicly. Mr Kjartansson added that it was “very, very brave” to even sign an online petition.

Russian artists cannot be more open in their criticism of war than Mr. Kjartansson. On Monday, one of the artists behind a popular anti-war petition said in a phone call that he would not reveal his name for fear of retaliation. Some of those who signed the petition had already lost their jobs, he added.

“In my view we have no future, so we have nothing to lose by speaking out against it,” he said, “but at the same time we are all afraid.”

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