Annals of the Neo-Soviet Art Crackdown

Yana Plucer-Sarno of the Voina art collective

A scathing item on ArtInfo by Yana Plucer-Sarno, editor of the Voina art collective, condemns the outrageous neo-Soviet crackdown on art:

Voina is a well-known group of Russian artists that engages in radical street protest actions. These artists have protested against the total elimination of freedom of speech, against the violation of human rights, and against the utter liquidation of democracy that have taken place in Russia in recent years.

In their manifesto, the group proclaims that its main goal is to create a new contemporary art language for the sake of pure art — and not for money. Within Russia, they want to create a real left-wing art movement in the best traditions of the Russian Futurism of the 1920s. They aim to trigger a revival of political protest art around the world. Voina struggles against the climate of socio-political obscurantism and right-wing reaction that has overtaken Russia.

People around the world saw one of the latest Voina actions, for which the group painted a huge dick on the Liteyniy bridge in St. Petersburg. When the bridge was drawn, the dick rose just in front of the KGB/FSB headquarters’ windows. It was 65 meters high and 23 meters wide. It was the biggest graffiti dick in the world. It was a “Fuck you!” to all the corrupted authorities who violate the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens. The famous artist Banksy saw the action and has openly supported the group.

When the totalitarian Russian authorities accused the prominent curator Andrei Yerofeyev of inciting ethnic and religious hatred and “insulting human dignity” for organizing an exhibition in 2007 titled “Forbidden Art,” the Voina art collective secretly carried two guitars, microphones, amplifiers, and other stage equipment into the courtroom. Just after the judge had declared the session open, the activists performed a new song “All Cops Are Bastards” from the album “Fuck the Police Those Motherfucking Bosses.” That was a real protest against the repression of intellectuals.

And now two artists from the Voina group, Oleg Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev, who were illegally arrested, are in prison. They were carried from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the iron floor of a police minibus with handcuffs on their hands and plastic bags on their heads for tenhours. During this trip, cops kicked Oleg, the main ideologist of the art group, in the kidneys, head, and liver. Hematomas remained on his body even two weeks later, a fact recorded by the human right defenders, who visited the arrested artists in jail.

Now Oleg and Leonid are accused of “fomenting hatred and enmity towards a social group,” namely, the police. The main artist of the group, Alex Plutser-Sarno, is accused of organizing and leading a criminal community — namely, the Voina art collective. This accusation implies a term of imprisonment of between 12 and 20 years.

A Russian prison camp is more dreadful than hell. The court session is going to be soon, but the artists have already been put into the detention cell. In Russia, this is a cell for 10 people in which 60 people huddle together, including those who have AIDS, hepatitis, and T.B.

There is also another affected activist, Natalia Sokol (a.k.a. Kozlyenok). During their search at the group’s secret flat, the cops illegally took away her passport as well as the passport of her one-and-a-half-year-old son Kasper. This makes it impossible for them to have any medical treatment or anything else. One cannot live without documents in totalitarian Russia. In the near future, the police have said, Natalia will be deprived of her parental rights and arrested. This means that Kasper will be sent to the orphan asylum, which is very much like a prison where children starve.

Such is the fate of an honest artist in today’s Russia. The artists of the Voina art collective are the only ones in the Russian art community who are making socio-political art that aims to struggle for the rights and freedoms of the people in their country.

The fact that two artists from the Voina group have been held in prison since November 15th and the fact that the Russian authorities demand a seven-year-term for them — and 20 years for the main artist in the group — should not be ignored by the global art community. Wemust answer the violence that the authorities commit against artists in Russia with protest.

You can review Voina’s actions — outstanding in their monumentality, non-conformity, and honesty — at the blog of Alex Plutser-Sarno. These actions prove that we are dealing with the artists whose place, beyond any doubt, is not in prison, but in the museums of Europe and America.

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