Russian Tradition of Art Resistance


This summer’s exhibition at Havremagasinet Art Center in Boden shows Russian protest art, ranging from the 70′s “Sots Art” that occurred during the Soviet repression to today’s Pussy Riot. A total of 40 Russian artists from five decades are participating in the exhibition. Curator is one of Russia’s foremost art historians and curators, Andrei Erofeev.

The title of the exhibition is inspired by what took place during the Olympic Games in Sochi when members of Pussy Riot were beaten by cossacks while preparing for a performance. By using the methods of Pussy Riot, the public will be unawarely co-creators of the artwork. In this case it was even more symbolic since the Cossacks represent the very conservative forces in the country and whose actions conceal the state having officially abolished censorship, but realizing it using others. Contact with a Cossack gives sense and meaning to the construction of protest works. Repression of authorities complements the humor aesthetics of protest art with an ethical component: willingness to accept suffering. Russian artists have a long tradition of art activism and in today’s Russia it is not a harmless activity. Given what is happening right now on the Crimean peninsula and the debate on human rights in Russia, this exhibition is even more relevant.

Russian protest art often has elements of humor and confrontations with the authorities can take on burlesque forms. The canon of this type of protest performance was first publicly tested in 1974 at the action named “Bulldozer Exhibition”. Artists exhibited their paintings in an open space in the rain and their spectators were KGB agents on bulldozers. They crushed one part of the works with their bulldozers and burned the rest. Artists and journalists were beaten and arrested which spawned enormous scandal in the international press. Over time, it became clear that the real piece of art work was the clash with authorities, not the actual paintings themselves. The parody canon of desperate and ridiculous tyranny fighters lasted 40 years. It also constituted a ground for the famous video of Pussy Riot performing their Punk Prayer in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

Andrei Erofeev became known across the world after being arrested for curating the exhibition “Forbidden Art” at the Sacharov Center in 2007. In a very talked about political trial Erofeev together with the director of the Sacharov Center, Jurij Samodurov, was convicted of “offending orthodox believers religious feelings”. Today Erofeev works as a freelance curator and art historian in cities like Barcelona, Milan and Prague. His solid background and status in the art world makes the exhibition in Boden into a large event for the Swedish art scene.

The exhibition gives visitors an overview over Russian protest art of five decades. The 1970s – and the 80s are represented by artists such as; Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid, Vicheslav Sisoev, Dmitry Prigov, Boris Orlov, Alexander Kosolapov and Leonid Sokov. The 1990′s is represented by Oleg Kulik, Anatoly Osmolovsky and Alexander Brener. The 2000′s is represented by Blue Noses and PG groups, as well as Dmitry Bulnigin, Sergey Shekhovtsov, Vladislav Mamishev-Monroe, Semyon Faibisovich and one of Russias most famous photographers Igor Mukhin. The 2010′s is represented by Pussy Riot, Voina and Tsvetophory Groups, Alexey Iorsh, Victoria Lomasko, Artem Loskutov and Vlad Chizhenkov.