A selection of arts and culture news from India and around the world.
Russian artist on trial for setting former KGB door alight
Notorious Russian performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky faces trial and possibly a six year imprisonment for setting on fire the entrance door of the Russian Federal Security Service on November 9, 2015. The charge against him is “damaging a cultural heritage site.”
The Federal Security Service was formerly the KGB, the prison known during Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s as a site for interrogation and torture.
Natalia Samover, a historian and architectural preservationist, says that the door does not count as cultural heritage because it is a replica of the original, and that many other artifacts and sites from the Stalin era are not treated as cultural heritage.
In a handwritten letter published on Facebook, Pavlensky claims that detainee escort officers beat him at the Moscow City Court.
Pavlensky is notorious for a long series of violent artistic acts. In 2012, he sewed his mouth shut to protest the detention of Russian punk group Pussy Riot; in 2013, he nailed his scrotum to the ground on Red Square, and in 2015, he cut off his ear lobe to protest police “returning to the use of psychiatry for political goals.”
Chinese artist Weiwei unveils works on Syrian refugees
Since he first visited Lesbos, Greece, on Christmas Day 2015, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has been helping the refugees there. He also set up a studio there and announced he was working on a set of works dedicated to the refugees. These works are now on display at the Cycladic Museum of Art in Athens.
One of them greets you before you even enter the museum – three flags high above the museum, one of Greece, the other of the European Union and the third printed with the outline of the body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy of Kurdish background who drowned in the Aegean Sea in September 2015.
Previously criticised for featuring Aylan’s death in his work, Weiwei says that we cannot “sentimentalise or romanticize” the refugee crisis, and that we cannot “use everyday moral judgement to say that [Aylan’s death] is forbidden.” The goal of the exhibition, says Weiwei, “is to make everyone conscious of the struggle of refugees. We need to protect humanity. The fight is endless.”
Ten percent of the exhibition proceeds will go to Medicins Sans Frontieres and METAdrasi, a Greek NGO.
Palestinian museum opens without exhibits
The new $24 million Palestinian Museum, the largest of its kind, opened on May 18 in Birzeit in the West Bank – without any exhibits, reports The New York Times.
The inaugural show “Never Part,” which was to highlight artifacts of Palestinian refugees, was suspended as a result of a disagreement between the museum’s board and its director, who was subsequently ousted.
Omar al-Qattan, the museum’s chairman, said, however, that Palestinians are “so in need of positive energy” that even opening an empty building was “symbolically… critical.” Over the years, Palestinians in the West Bank have struggled to build new cultural institutions and maintain existing ones, including the Palestine National Orchestra and the Popular Art Center in Ramallah.
The museum plans to address, in its future exhibitions, the question of who were the original occupiers of the area, and whether that debate is even relevant or significance. Commenting on the sensitive nature of the topic, Qattan reflected that it is the “power of culture” to “tread into tricky areas.”
On May 25, the museum plans to open a “satellite exhibition” in Beirut, Lebanon, called “At the Seams: A Political History of Palestinian Embroidery.” The reason for this, said Qattan, is that border control and travel through Israel makes it difficult for many people to visit the museum in the West Bank.
Greenpeace protests shut British Museum
On May 19, Greenpeace activists protested BP’s sponsorship of the museum’s “Sunken Cities, Egypt’s Lost Worlds” exhibition and forced the British Museum to close down for four hours.
The activists climbed the museum’s front pillars and unfurled 27-foot long banners printed with the words “Sinking Cities” and images of places including New Orleans and Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, UK, that are being affected by flooding, extreme weather and rising sea levels in this century.
In a statement, Greenpeace spokeswoman Elena Polisano said that Greenpeace staged the protest “because of the irony of an oil company sponsoring an exhibition whose name practically spells out impacts of climate change.”