The iron curtain has been lowered on art this week when Yulia Tsvetkova, a 27-year-old Russian artist and activist for women’s rights and LGBT rights, was charged with disseminating pornography. The charge said she posted imagery of female anatomy online. The trial, which will be a closed hearing, begins next week and if found guilty she will be imprisoned for six years.

Preserving family values

A Daily Mail report noted that the case against Yulia is in line with the Kremlin’s conservative thinking. Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin amended the constitution to “preserve traditional family values.” One wonders how he reconciles the prosecution of Yulia with exhibit examples in the state museum – the Hermitage – where artworks featuring female anatomy are on display for all to see.

(More about that in a moment).

‘Snowballing’ censorship

Censoring Yulia has prompted outrage internationally. Last week, Amnesty International labeled her case “Kafkaesque” (translation: a nightmare) and pleaded with Russian authorities to dismiss the charges. Russian artist Alexei Gorbushin told the Associated Press that censorship was “snowballing” in Russia and that if the art community doesn’t stand up for Yulia, “any other person can be next.” An online petition demanding that charges be dropped drew more than 250,000 signatures.

Shape up or ship out

Not that Yulia’s case is all that unusual. As the Observer points out, Russian artists who speak out against the establishment are routinely punished.

The famous case of the punk rock group called Pussy Riot comes to mind. The group was arrested in 2012 for performing a song faulting Putin in a Christian Orthodox church

Exploitation in Excelsis

But accusing Yulia of pornography is another matter. Her mother, Anna Khodyreva, told the Associated Press that her daughter has always been against porn.

“Feminists are against pornography because it's the exploitation of women's bodies.” Speaking of which, consider an outright vision of such exploitation in the carved ivory statue "Rape of Proserpina" by Simon Troger on permanent display in the Hermitage.

Edifying rape

What you see is a harrowing depiction of an abduction of a disrobed woman - the ancient Roman goddess Proserpina - straining to escape the clutching arms of her rapist, the god Pluto.

Her facial expression speaks to the agonizing ordeal. Putin’s concern for Russian's sensibility on seeing female anatomy online makes one wonder if he’s ever seen the very exposed Rape of Proserpina. Either he hasn’t or he has and thinks that rape seen in a museum makes it nicer. If anything, the high art setting edifies it.

Domestic disturbance

Then there’s Georges Barbier’s illustration "The Queen of the Night" in the raw. Talk about violating traditional family values, the story behind this work unwittingly mocks Putin’s belief system. The picture title refers to a woman who threatens to disown her daughter Pamina if she doesn’t assassinate the queen’s rival Sarastro. Next to this depravity, Yulia’s imagery is G-rated.

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