Modern art in Russia, a victim of the war and government repression in Ukraine

The world of Russian culture has been experiencing a mass exodus since last February. Actors, directors, artists, photographers… Many of them chose to escape the repression and censorship that directly threatened them. Margarita, she worked in a large enterprise that closed its doors immediately after the war began. He stayed in Russia. And wonders about his future.

Many artists and curators left the country, explains this young woman. Some for political reasons, some for fear, some for self-expression abroad. Many places found themselves without any actors. Some institutions have closed their doors completely, sometimes by their own choice, and sometimes under pressure from authorities who classify them as foreign agents. »

There is no longer a “grey zone” to bypass censorship

However, the censorship is not related to the start of the war in Ukraine. Since 2014, after the annexation of Crimea, the Ministry of Culture has strengthened its hand in all areas of artistic expression in the country. All of them, like Antonina Baever, were used to playing with the censorship and bypassing it. This artist and photographer has exhibited in the largest contemporary art venues in Russia. ” In 2015, I opened my first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Moscow, which was a clear anti-militaristic statement. He remembers from Germany, where he lives today. However, the curator avoided censorship because he wrote a rather abstract text. And the people who controlled all of this didn’t really understand what it was. In fact, there was a gray area. There is no gray area beyond February 24. »

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the power debate has become much tougher. Recently, Duma President Vyacheslav Volodin took on state censorship before the Minister of Culture:

Actors and artists create. Politicians, politics. It is unacceptable when we start to engage in politics at construction sites and insult the citizens of our country. Everyone should understand this. If you work in the theater, if you make a film, think about the citizens of your country. And it works in their interest. Nobody will finance the action that destroys your country and insults your people. »

Exhibition in front of Le Garage modern art museum in Moscow in 2015.  This place has been closed since the start of the war in Ukraine.
Exhibition in front of Le Garage modern art museum in Moscow in 2015. This place has been closed since the start of the war in Ukraine.


“Art cannot be outside of politics”

Therefore, art is obliged to remain “neutral” and not get involved in the political sphere. An aberration for many artists like Antonina Baever. ” The main goal of propaganda is the depoliticization of society and, therefore, the politicization of art.he claims. But art cannot be apolitical. When artists say that they have left politics, they are still in politics. Only on the other side, you see? On the side presented as good. Neutral art does not exist. This is an illusion. »

The names of some authors have been deleted in Moscow state theaters. Their plays are still allowed, but they opposed the war… Now their names are forbidden by the Ministry of Culture. For the next ceremony of Moliere’s equivalent of Golden Masks, the professionals have given up on awarding the best director award. It’s very complex and very context sensitive, given that many of them have left the country. Alexander Kudriashov had an independent theater and also worked in state theaters. Today, his plays are staged in Kazakhstan, one of the countries where he lives. ” The Russian theater system is mainly based on state theatershe explains and you can earn money only in these theaters. All these theaters are now in the hands of the state. They cannot take a single step, neither forward nor backward… »

More funding, administrative closures, threats of legal action, life for Russian artists has become hell. For those actors who choose to stay, who continue to perform classical repertoire in state theaters, silence is the best defense. None of the people we contacted wanted to answer us. Marat Guelman, a gallery owner, collector and art critic who left the country in 2014, says that most of the “protesters” have left the country, but the repressions have other goals.

Repression against artists as an instrument of power

It cannot be said that the limits of artists remaining in Russia are dangerous for the authoritiesanalyzes this connoisseur of the Russian artistic environment. But it is very easy and very practical for the authorities to show that they do not object to everyone through the repression of art. Dismissal, arrest, expulsion from Russia, etc. for that protest. »

Censorship, for him, stems from the fear that pervades all sections of Russian society today. ” The most ardent prohibitionists are not politicians, not Putin, but civil servants of culture.he explains. They are especially afraid that some “patriots” will write slander against them. And he should be punished for that. For example, an orthodox patriot organization recently wrote a letter saying that showing Harry Potter in our cinemas is a crime. Because Harry Potter uses some kind of magic, and magic is an anti-Orthodox activity. »

Harry Potter is not banned in Russia. State theaters and major museums are still open. But all this is an illusion for Margarita. ” If you look at the exhibits currently in progress, everything on display is from the reserves. In fact, creation no longer exists. »

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