I am writing with regard to the situation around my participation in the exhibition Russian Counterpoint.
As you probably know, the Russian Ministry of Culture banned some of my work from being shown.
This is not the first case of inadequate official assessment of the Russian art process. In 1999, I was charged with "inciting national and religious hatred" under the Section 282 (2) of The Criminal Code of Russian Federation, and faced two to four years in jail. Per my attorney recommendation, I had to leave the country before the hearing. I became an immigrant, and for over ten years live in the Czech Republic as political refugee.
In the year 2000 a similar case was brought to the artist and filmmaker Oleg Mavromatti, who was threatened to jail time under the same Section of the Criminal Code. He fled the country and currently lives in Bulgaria.
In 2003 radical religious group crushed exhibition "Caution, Religion!" at the Sakharov Center for Human Rights, where artists reflected on the relations between art and religion. After the trial, the rioters were dismissed, while the exhibition curators Yuri Samodurov and Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, were convicted and sentenced to a fine. Soon, after immigrating to Germany their fellow curator Anna Alchuk committed suicide.
In 2007, after another exhibition in Sakharov Center, "Forbidden Art-2006" the criminal case against its organizers Viktor Erofeev and Yuri Samodurov was initiated. This exhibition presented works from the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery, works which were banned from different shows in this museum during the year 2006. The show included art by Ilya Kabakov, Alexander Kosolapov and other internationally renowned Russian artists.
Immediately after the beginning of criminal proceedings, Chief Curator of the New Art at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Andrei Evrofeev lost his job, and Sakharov Center Director, Yuri Samodurov was forced to resign. In 2010 both were convicted and, thanks to an unprecedented public support, were only sentenced to fines. While the prosecutor demanded a three-year imprisonment term.
All these persecutions were initiated by the radical wing of the Russian Orthodox Church, with approval of the Moscow Patriarchate, rapidly increasing its political power in Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Culture did not interfere in resolution of any of these conflicts.
These are only a few of the most outrageous and exemplifying cases directly related to art, and reflecting common trends in deteriorating human rights situation in Russia.
A month ago, along the lines of the same legal charges, a new dangerous situation was created. Russian Consulate in Sofia [Bulgaria] refused to renew a passport to the aforementioned artist Oleg Mavromatti on the grounds that he was on the 10 year old list of "All-Russia's Wanted". As the result, his stay in Bulgaria became illegal. The Embassy staff notified him of his forthcoming extradition to Russia. Under current circumstances if deported, Mavromatti is to be jailed while awaiting the trial. I would like to emphasize here, that this possible imprisonment represents a real threat to his life due to the specifics of Russian prison: the harsh living conditions, brutal attitudes between prisoners and growing popularity of the Orthodox Religion among criminals, accompanied by the increasing influence of the Church in the most primitive forms on the prison life.
My work from the Radical Abstractionism series is the artist's immediate reaction to such circumstances. The refusal of the Ministry of Culture to release these works - is very revealing. They played the role of indicator, marking the limits of idiocy in the relationship between art and power.
Therefore, despite the fact that it is limited edition work, I refuse to reproduce it by printing in France.
I do not want to take part in the neutralization of the newly manifested long-standing deep conflict.
Hence, I have decided not to participate in this show if the following two requirements are not met by the Russian side:
1. My work must be legally exported from Russia.
2. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation should extend the foreign passport to Oleg Mavromatti.
I published an Open Letter to all exhibition participants, asking them to support my claims and boycott the show. I hope that my colleagues will support me.
I am very sorry if my public statement disrupts the exhibition. And would like to sincerely apologize to you and your colleagues.
I would like to emphasize that to be exhibited at the Louvre is a big honor for me and my colleagues. I do not have any thoughts against you as a curator, and your French and Russian colleagues directly involved in organizing of the event.
To me it is the only possible way to draw public attention in Europe and Russia to the problems described above, and to contribute to the resolution of the critical situation around Oleg Mavromatti in his favor.
I am confident that my demands are realistic and completely fair. They are addressed to the Russian authorities, exclusively.
I hope you understand me. After all, France has always been a symbol of freedom to the world.
I ask you for your support of my statement and hope you could officially submit a congruous letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation in Moscow.
September 26, 2010