On September 8, an exhibition of American photographer Jock Sturges’ work documenting life in nudist colonies opened at Moscow's Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography. Less than two weeks later, the museum, facing pressure from conservative activists claiming that Sturges’ photographs violated Russia's laws against child pornography, ended the exhibition.
The first person to object to Sturges’ exhibition was Lena Myro, a fitness blogger who is notorious for referring to her readers as “fat pigs.” Her post, which accused Sturges of engaging in “child pornography” and “pedophilia,” went viral on Saturday morning. Later that day, Yelena Mizulina, an MP in Russia's State Duma, the face of the country's anti-LGBT movement, and an advocate of “traditional values,” demanded that No Embarrassment be shut down immediately, alleging that Sturges’ work amounted to child pornography and “pedophile propaganda.”
Jock Sturges’ work is undoubtedly controversial, and indeed many of his nude models are underage. Still, his photographs don't fit the definition of child pornography as laid out in Russian law.
УК РФ Статья 242.1. Примечание 2. Не являются материалами и предметами с порнографическими изображениями несовершеннолетних материалы и предметы, содержащие изображение или описание половых органов несовершеннолетнего, если такие материалы и предметы имеют историческую, художественную или культурную ценность либо предназначены для использования в научных или медицинских целях либо в образовательной деятельности в установленном федеральным законом порядке.
Russian Criminal Code. Article 242.1. Note 2. Materials and objects containing images or descriptions of a minor's sexual organs are not considered child pornography if such materials and objects have historical, artistic or cultural value, or are intended to be used for scientific or medical purposes, or educational activities in accordance with federal law.
Disregarding this provision, new Children’s Rights Commissioner Anna Kuznetsova seconded Mizulina's description of Sturges’ art as “child pornography” and promised immediate action. Representatives from the Lumiere Brothers Center updated the official description of the exhibit on their website: “The naked models on show are adult women of legal age,” the website read.
But it was too late. The next day, a group of activists calling themselves “Officers of Russia” blocked an entrance to the gallery. Anton Tsvetkov, the leader of the “Officers” and a member of Russia's Civic Chamber, came in to see the pictures. He was accompanied by a likeminded local official and an unknown man who poured urine on an offending picture. (Other activists intervened, however, and the man was charged with disorderly conduct, according to news website Meduza.)
Later on Sunday, the Lumiere Brothers Center leaders decided to avoid further controversy and end the exhibition early. Jock Sturges told Russian journalists that he was surprised and upset by this decision.
The Runet didn't stay quiet. Journalist Yekaterina Gordeeva said she was shocked by the attack on the exhibit: “Those ignorant obscurantists! The Officers of Russia are now an arts council, our conscience, our taste,” she wrote on Facebook.
Dmitry Gudkov, a former Duma deputy, argued, also on Facebook, that no one should be surprised by the government abandoning its monopoly on violence.
Вот эти казаки и фекальные активисты – они и есть расширенное государство…Просто в России выстроена вертикаль власти – и никто не обещал, что она будет легальной. Кто подставляет плечо этой власти – тот и в вертикали. И живут, кстати, все “Офицеры”, казаки и цапки на наши деньги: получают их через гранты, преференции или ненаказуемый разбой и пригосударственный бизнес.
All these Cossacks and fecal activists are an extension of the government… Russia has simply erected the power vertical – no one promised that it would be legal. Anyone who lends a hand is part of the vertical. And by the way all those officers, Cossacks, and Tsapki take our money through grant programs, preferences, unpunishable robbery, or state-supported business.
Publicist Ivan Davydov, meanwhile, wrote that he was tempted to tell people: “Why don't you just try not going to the exhibit?”