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Russia’s artists enter political fray in elections
But the wave of protests that followed fraud-tainted parliamentary elections in December generated a lively burst of creativity — from parodies of the Barack Obama “Hope” poster to acts of performance art and satirical online videos.
As Prime Minister Putin seeks victory in Sunday’s presidential election, Russian artists are reclaiming their long-dormant role of confronting authority and even people who don’t claim to be artists are showing an imaginative streak.
“People are now making art out of politics,” said Marat Gelman, curator of the modern arts museum in Perm — one of the country’s most adventurous — about 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) east of Moscow.
In the glasnost era of openness under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the early years following the communist collapse, Russia’s artists basked in their new freedom to provoke the powerful and make acid comment with paint, photographs and other media.
But they lost momentum after Putin became president in 2000, partly out of fear of a newly repressive climate, partly succumbing to apathy. In addition, the increasingly lucrative potential for going commercial dampened cutting edge artists’ enthusiasm for tackling politics.
The protest rallies over the past few months have been marked by a high level of satirical art, both in placards and performances.
Angered by Putin’s contemptuous comment that the protesters’ white-ribbon emblems looked like condoms, demonstrators have found unlimited fun with the theme.
One notable placard showed Putin with a condom wrapped around his head, in the style of headscarves widely worn by Russian rural women. A demonstrator braved freezing temperatures to show up wrapped in a body-suit resembling a condom.
Another came dressed as a tank, a dismissive rejoinder to a tank factory worker’s nationally televised vow that he and his buddies would help clear the streets of protesters.
In an action resembling a massive piece of performance art, tens of thousands of people last weekend linked hands to form a human chain around the 16-kilometer (10-mile) ring road that circles central Moscow.
The amateur creations delighted artists, but also left many feeling sheepish about having abandoned political themes.
“What happened (in December) was a real reproach to the creative community, because art had stopped being avant-garde,” said Gelman. “Society overtook artists, and so now artists are very busily trying to reclaim that advance position.”
One example was an exhibit called “No Comment Art. Moscow” in February. Its New York-based organizer, Maika Maiorova, said the idea came when she was visiting her family in Moscow.
“I was, of course, interested and inspired by what has begun to happen here,” Maiorova said. “I realized that there is a lot to explore among the artists’ commentary on the political and social moment.”
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