Russian artist seeks asylum after Putin and Medvedev portrait seized
Konstantin Altunin's wife appeals for financial help to join her husband in France
By Sophia Kishkovsky. Web only
Published online: 28 August 2013
An artist whose paintings, including one depicting President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev in women’s lingerie, have been seized by the police has fled abroad to seek asylum, says the founder of the private museum where Konstantin Altunin's works were on show.
Aleksandr Donskoi, whose museum has been shut since the raid on 26 August, said Altunin fears that “he will be arrested and he doesn’t want to return”, the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper reports. The artist flew to Denmark, and plans to head to France to seek asylum, Donskoi said. The artist's wife has said that her husband is already in Paris.
Police in St Petersburg seized four works from the Muzei Vlasti (Museum of Authority), according to a statement. The pieces include a portrait of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I, bare-chested and covered in Soviet-era prison tattoos.
The Russian media has reported that the art was being investigated on charges of “extremism”, a broad term in Russia’s criminal code. Donskoi, who opened the museum earlier this month, said in a radio interview that the police had sealed off the institution. He accused Vitaly Milonov, a local legislator known for anti-gay activism and promotion of traditional Russian Orthodox values, of leading the raid. Milonov told the RIA Novosti news agency that he had visited the museum, found the images to be “blatantly offensive” and filed a complaint with police, but denied being present during the raid.
One of the seized paintings is Rainbow Milonov, a Pop art-style portrait of Milonov depicted against a rainbow background. The raid took place as St Petersburg prepares to host the G20 summit next week and Manifesta, the roving European contemporary art biennial, next year.
Update: Altunin’s wife, Yelena Altunina, posted a message on the artist's Facebook page today (29 August), and on her page on VKontakte, a Russian social networking site, appealing for legal assistance and funds. She said that they had used the last of their money, and borrowed from friends, to pay for his flight from Russia, and that she and their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter are “on the verge of poverty”, as is the artist, who is struggling with his new circumstances in Paris where he has nowhere to live and needs a lawyer to help with his asylum application. Their only source of income, his paintings, remains inaccessible in the sealed-off museum. Altunina said she must leave Russia and join her husband in France as soon as possible, “because it’s not safe to stay here”.
Aleksandr Donskoi told the RIA Novosti news agency that since charges have not yet been filed, he plans to break the police seal on the museum on 5 September for a one-day showing of Altunin’s paintings, after which they will be sent to the artist in Paris. The museum will continue operating, he said.
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