“So Christ will also be banned” – DW – 01/28/2023

“So Christ will also be banned” – DW – 01/28/2023

Moscow has discovered “political overtones” in the famous Mitki slogan “The Mitki don’t want to defeat anyone.” A painting with a pacifist statement was removed from the exhibition of the All-Russian Museum of Decorative Arts. The author of the work, a well-known St. Petersburg artist and one of the founders of the Mitki subculture, Dmitry Shagin, told DW about how he saved the painting and why what was happening reminded him of the events of 40 years ago.

DW: How did the painting with the anti-war slogan get to the exhibition in Moscow?

Dmitry ShaginФото: picture alliance / Photoagency Interpress

Dmitry Shagin: The picture was drawn for the 65th anniversary of the magazine “Decorative Art”. By the way, a very good magazine that wrote a lot about art, including Mitki. There was such an idea for the exhibition – for artists to draw postcards for various holidays. I decided to make a “Vest Day”, this is our unofficial St. Petersburg holiday. First I drew a sketch: Mitki in vests carry a banner with their famous slogan “The Mitki do not want to defeat anyone.” He was approved. Then I drew a big picture, it was also approved. They printed postcards with a sketch of my work for the exhibition. The Museum of Decorative Arts, where the exhibition was to be held, stands in the center of Moscow. The contract was signed, the opening took place. They didn’t invite me, and I myself had the flu, it wasn’t before that.

– And then something went wrong?

– After the New Year holidays, I call my friends from the magazine, and they say: “Sorry, Mitya, we could not defend your picture.” They were sent an official paper signed by the director of this museum with instructions to withdraw the painting “due to the presence of political overtones.” I’m at a loss, I ask, but you can pick up a picture? They say: “Yes, we hid her, come.”

– And you went to pick up the picture?

– January 22 was the closing of the exhibition, I arrived in Moscow, I went to the museum, there were all sorts of people, art critics, there were also from the Tretyakov Gallery, everyone really likes the exhibition. I look, a three-meter banner hangs at the entrance. All the works that are exhibited are printed there. There, on the banner, is a reproduction of my painting “The Day of the Vest”. Only the text of the banner carried by the Mitki is simply smeared over with bright red paint. As if the Mitki are walking against the background of the Soviet flag – just “Shchors is walking under the banner, the red commander.” I say, “What is this?” They answer me: “Yes, they painted it over with gouache, it’s okay, you can wipe it off.” They immediately brought me rags to scrub, water, some kind of alcohol. I hold on, make a cheerful look, there are people around, art critics. I say: “Now we’ll arrange a performance, how we return the picture to the correct state. Ter-ter for about twenty minutes – it doesn’t come out, it doesn’t rub off. They smeared it so that it will last for centuries. As a result, everyone has already dispersed, my performance was not a success.

I go outside, it’s getting dark, it’s snowing. From under the floor, from the back door, they carried out my picture wrapped up. And I went in shock, I do not understand anything. How so? I’m walking around Moscow, around some terrible new monuments: Kobzon, Kalashnikov. At that moment, I felt like I was in an Orwellian book.

Artist Dmitry Shagin with a painting
Artist Dmitry Shagin with the painting “Test Day”Photo: private

– What’s next? What will happen to the painting?

– Now the picture has returned home – to St. Petersburg. Will be exhibited in our art center “Mitki”. I closed it with plexiglass, bolted on – so that no one splashed paint. The full text of the slogan that caused the film to be filmed is as follows: “The Mitki don’t want to defeat anyone, they will always be in shit, losers, and therefore they will conquer the whole world.” This slogan is not about the Soviet or anti-Soviet, not about confrontation with the authorities, but about the philosophy of the Mitki movement. Banning it is like banning the Beatles’ “All you need is love”. So Christ will be banned.

– From what time is this slogan?

– The slogan appeared in 1985. We, young Leningrad artists, lived in our own world, we had an underground, our own rock club, unofficial apartment exhibitions. Slowly the restrictions were loosened. In 1985, our first exhibition was already held, which was not dispersed – near St. Petersburg, in Ust-Izhora. It was opened by Grebenshchikov and closed by Viktor Tsoi. We had a happy, young, creative life. Communist propaganda was somewhere outside our reality. We were no longer killed, we were not imprisoned, like my father Vladimir Shagin, who served six years for his art under Khrushchev. The exhibition was not crushed by bulldozers, as in 1974 in Moscow. But pictures from exhibitions were still removed. People came, such “art historians” in civilian clothes, who pointed with the finger: take it off, take it off.

– What were the selection criteria?

– They had three points: anti-Soviet, religious propaganda and pornography. Any “nude” image was suitable for pornography. Of course, there was no talk of any erotic scene, but even if a bathing girl was depicted, they could also be banned. Under religious propaganda fell the image of crosses, any symbols associated with Christianity, even the dome of the church, looking out in the distance on the landscape. Well, absolutely anything could be summed up as anti-Soviet. The last exhibition of Mitki, where there was still censorship, took place in March 1986. Then a lot of works were filmed, in particular mine – a portrait of Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilyov before execution, with his poems: “At the evening hour / Sunset hour / With a winged chariot / Petrograd floats by.” This, of course, was recognized as anti-Soviet. Kirill Miller had a painting “Lennon on the Hills” – a paraphrase of the famous painting “Lenin on the Hills”. It was also anti-Soviet.

But the most incomprehensible for the commission was the picture of Solomon Rossin “Lev Nikolayevich on horseback”: Tolstoy is so wonderful there, barefoot, in a kosovorotka. And this commission, headed by KGB colonel Korshunov, could not explain what the anti-Soviet was about, they simply banned it. Then such a moment turned out: a certain Zaikov was then appointed head of Leningrad, and his name was Lev Nikolaevich. And the commission decided that this could be a mockery of Zaikov.

– Are you safe?

– They were reinsured and found fault with literally everything. Such a story was everywhere at that time: on the shelves of film studios, shot films were gathering dust, removed from sight for many decades, in a rock club, the commission checked all the texts of rock bands, found fault with every word. But all the same, censorship was weakening, and so far there has never been a picture removed from the exhibition. 37 or 38 years this has not happened again! In 1987, there was a nit-pick about Vasya Golubev’s engraving “The Mitki send Brezhnev to Afghanistan.” But nothing serious then ended.

See also:

Why is a children’s book rated 18+

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