Why? Because!”: how an Russian anti-war exhibition was turned into a pro-war event



July 20, 2022

Since the beginning of the war, artists and curators in Russia have constantly faced exhibition cancellations and censorship. Both the country's largest museums and smaller galleries have already canceled scheduled openings, deleted previews from their websites, and removed artists' works on the orders of the authorities.

The logic behind the cancellations and bans cannot always be explained; there is talk of compiling lists of banned artists, similar to the previously published lists of banned musicians. The funny thing is that the Russian authorities constantly talk publicly about how Russian culture is being "abolished" all over the world. Apparently, the censorship and ideological dictatorship against antiwar artists that they themselves initiated does not count as "abolition of culture".

But we have not yet read about how the antiwar exhibition turned into a pro-war one. An absurd story about this was sent to us by an artist from a major Siberian city.

“I originally put together this piece for an anti-war exhibition, which was supposed to be called ‘Why?’ On the opening day I saw that the exhibition had been renamed ‘Why? Because!” and that another announcement had been circulated on social media, which was worded as if it was an exhibition about war and almost justified it.

“Then I found out that in the process of preparing the exhibition the curators had been approached by the FSB [secret service]. One of the curators turned out to be pro-government; he made an agreement with the FSB that the exhibition would not be banned, but would be changed. At the insistence of the FSB, another artist's work with disabled people from the Second World War and a work by the curator himself with the expressive title ‘The Demons are dancing the hopak [popular Ukrainian dance]’ about ‘Ukrainian nationalists’ were added to the exhibition. I withdrew my work from the exhibition.”

If you know of other cases of such censorship, share them with us in the bot @femagainstwar_bot!