Feud for thought: Moscow shaken by provocative art exhibit

Moscow has been rocked by another controversial performance - a provocative art exhibition inspired by punk band Pussy Riot caused protests by Orthodox Christians outside the Modern Art Gallery complex, along with a bomb threat.

­An unknown man called the police on Friday afternoon to warn of a bomb threat in the Art Gallery. The police later said no device has been found.

On Thursday, nine people were detained for public order violations as a group of around 20 people, mostly Russian Cossacks, attempted to disrupt the opening night of the exhibition. Chanting “No to Liberal Fascism" and other slogans, they attempted to force their way into the gallery.

The protesters say they were offended by the exhibit, which is set to remain intact for now.

The exhibition, named the “Spiritual Feud” shows paintings of the jailed Pussy Riot members in balaclavas, portrayed as religious icons, by artist Evgenia Maltseva. One of the "icons" has the word "Free" painted on it in large yellow letters.

Image from www.winzavod.ru
Image from www.winzavod.ru

­It appears to be a reference to the "Free Pussy Riot" slogan seen at some protests against the detention of three band members.

Senior Orthodox Church official Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin denounced the art show as a humiliation of the symbols of Christianity.

“I have not seen all the exhibits, only the one which was posted in the internet,” he told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency, “To my mind, it insults a Holy Symbol, worshiped by Christians – the icon of Our Savior.”

The Archpriest also reminded that administrative punishment is possible for insulting the feelings of worshipers. 

In August, a Moscow court sentenced three members of Pussy Riot to two years in a medium-security prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred and enmity.”

The Pussy Riot case has divided public opinion in the country into those who think the punk band’s actions deserve to be punished harshly, and those who think there was no criminal intent.

As the trial went ahead, international superstars such as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Sting, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More and a handful of other legendary pop and rock artists and ensembles voiced support for Pussy Riot.

The case also sparked a wave of vandalism and anti-church frenzy. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the issue, warning against degenerating into religious hysteria.

Earlier in September, an elderly man visiting Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral doused one of the church's icons in ink. He claimed that the act of vandalism was revenge for the three jailed members of Pussy Riot, but told the police he was mentally ill.

After the group’s verdict and sentencing, four Orthodox Christian crosses were chopped down in different parts of Russia. 

In the Ukrainian capital Kiev, the leader of the country’s activist group Femen took a chainsaw to a cross in Kiev in protest of the trial. The symbolic felling of the cross has been dubbed as a “Trash Prayer, echoing Pussy Riot’s Punk Prayer.

Femen went even further and offered paymentto anyone who desecrates Orthodox crosses and churches. Cutting down a cross was announced to be worth as much as 6,000 rubles (US$188).

Moscow’s monuments, including that to the poet Aleksandr Pushkin in the very heart of the city, have also suffered. They have been “masked” in support of the Pussy Riot members.

Orthodox activists near the entrance to CSI "Vinozavod", where the opening of the "Spiritual Combat" exhibition is taking place. (RIA Novosti/Maxim Blinov)
Orthodox activists near the entrance to CSI "Vinozavod", where the opening of the "Spiritual Combat" exhibition is taking place. (RIA Novosti/Maxim Blinov)
Visitors at the opening of the "Spiritual Combat" exhibition in the CSI "Vinozavod". (RIA Novosti/Maxim Blinov)
Visitors at the opening of the "Spiritual Combat" exhibition in the CSI "Vinozavod". (RIA Novosti/Maxim Blinov)