'Putin in underwear' artist flees to France
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Russian artist Konstantin Altunin fled Russia Tuesday and is now seeking asylum in France after his painting of Vladimir Putin wearing women’s underwear was seized from a St Petersburg museum by police.
Following last year’s arrest and imprisonment of three members of the punk rock protest band Pussy Riot, Russian authorities are once again flexing their muscles when it comes to dissenting members of the country’s artistic community.
This time, it is artist Konstantin Altunin facing the wrath of the Russian police, after he exhibited a painting depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in women’s underwear.
Fearing arrest, Altunin has now fled Russia and is seeking asylum in France.
The painting, in which Putin was shown playing with the hair of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev - also in women’s underwear - was one of four works seized by Russian police from a small private museum in the city of St Petersburg, host of next week’s G20 summit.
Other artworks taken in the raid included a portrait of politician Vitaly Milonov, one of the architects of Russia’s controversial anti-gay laws, in which he was depicted alongside a rainbow flag - an international symbol of gay pride.
Alerted by a member of the public who believed the paintings were in breach of Russian law, police armed with Kalashnikovs raided the Museum of Power on Tuesday to confiscate the artworks, the museum’s owner Aleksander Donskoi told the AFP news agency.
“Police recommended us not to make a noise about this incident ahead of the G20, but it is scandalous, art has nothing to do with politics,” he said.
Paintings may have violated controversial anti-gay law
Learning that police were also waiting for him at his home, Altunin fled Russia on Tuesday, arriving in the French capital Paris on Wednesday, said Donskoi.
Authorities are currently examining the paintings, but have not yet specified which Russian laws the exhibition violated.
The museum believes, however, that the police may seek to press charges under the country’s recently passed controversial law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors.
Vitaly Milonov, the author of the law, visited the exhibition “a few days ago”, said Donskoi.
“Milonov came yesterday [Tuesday] evening with the police. He is behind the ban on the exhibition,” he said.
Milonov was quoted by local media as saying that he did not wanted to be painted with “a flag brandished by perverts and HIV-positive sodomites”.
Speaking on St Petersburg’s Echo radio station, the Russian MP dismissed the works of art as "tasteless, at the same level as a yob from a vocational college who scribbles in a toilet at a bus stop".
(FRANCE 24 with wires)