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Living-deadly art Russia’s cancel culture turns the authorities on another work of art that supposedly offends veterans

Source: Meduza

Federal investigators in St. Petersburg are hot on the trail of another potentially offensive work of art. This latest culprit is a painting by Kirill Miller depicting a crowd of people carrying portraits of rotting, dead-eyed ghouls. Wounded members of the public say the piece, titled “The Living and the Dead,” mocks the “Immortal Regiment” — an annual march staged in many cities across Russia on Victory Day where participants carry portraits of ancestors who fought in World War II. Miller says his painting predates the Immortal Regiment tradition, which emerged less than a decade ago, but state officials seem keen to police this apparently unforgivable assault on the feelings of veterans and their descendants. 

According to an official statement from Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee on October 26, director Alexander Bastrykin ordered an inquiry into “reports by citizens and news media about the potentially offensive nature of images depicting those killed in the Great Patriotic War, captured in a painting.” The agency’s statement didn’t mention Kirill Miller by name, but investigators showed up hours later at “Pig’s Snout” (the gallery that hosted his work) and asked directly about Miller’s painting, says the local website Fontanka.

“The Living and the Dead” was on display from September 8 to September 26 as part of an exhibit called “GKChP” (State Committee on the State of Emergency — the name of the group that attempted the August 1991 Soviet coup d'état). The day that the exhibit closed, someone criticized Miller’s work in a post on the Vkontakte group “Veterans’ Memories,” claiming that the painting was titled “Undying Regiment 2.” The community’s moderators promptly urged members to file complaints with Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee. 

On October 22, celebrity lawyer and former Children's Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov appeared in a video published in the Facebook group “Immortal Regiment of Russia.” In the footage, Astakhov called Miller’s painting “an allusion to the Immortal Regiment civic-patriotic event, presented in a caricature, mocking form.” He added that the Immortal Regiment movement would appeal to the Federal Investigative Committee, and he called on the public to follow suit. “No matter how it disguises itself as alternative art, evil must be punished and destroyed,” Astakhov said.

For his part, Kirill Miller confirmed to 47news in September that the painting in question is called “The Living and the Dead.” He said he has no idea why some people claim its title is “Undying Regiment 2,” and he explained (in the argot of an artist) that the piece “is connected to our reality only to a limited extent”:

It’s a study of social schema and different forms of existence. Nothing more. The picture doesn’t show any ties to Russia, and there are no military symbols. It’s just people carrying portraits. 

Miller also pointed out that the painting is “quite old.” “I did it back before the regiment was even a thing,” he told journalists, revealing that he’s painted several similar pieces, such as one depicting people carrying banners with Kazimir Malevich’s “Black Square” and others where they carry portraits of pigs.

On October 26, federal investigators arrived at the gallery “Pig’s Snout,” citing a complaint filed by a woman who reported being offended by Miller’s painting, one of the gallery’s founders told Fontanka. One of the detectives reportedly asked, “Was there a painting depicting the Immortal Regiment at your last exhibit?” When told no, shown Miller’s “The Living and the Dead,” and asked “Do you see a single veteran here?” the official apparently said nothing.

Text by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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