When vandals destroyed pieces of modern art in an exhibition in Moscow, it wasn't the perpetrators who got into trouble. According to the law, their actions were justifiable. Museum director Yuri Samodurov however, is now facing several years in prison for putting on another of the "Christianity-offensive" shows.

In 2003 the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Community Center put up artwork in a show called "Careful, Religion!" When the display was vandalised by orthodox Christians, the organisers of the exhibition were put to blame. In the opinion of the Russian court, it was the centre's fault for provoking offense, and worthy of a 200,000 Russian Ruble fine (5,400 euros). Now, the museum's director is once again facing charges for inciting religious hatred. Despite using peep-hole viewing methods so that only those people interested would look at the 2007 "Forbidden Art" show, both director Yuri Samodurov and curator Andrei Erofeev are facing prison terms for displaying defaced religious symbols.

Pieces from the "Forbidden Art" exhibition, on show at the centre in 2007

Vagrich Bakhcanyan.

 

Caviar-Icon, Alexander Kosolapov.

 

Coca-Cola/ This is my blood, Alexander Kosolapov.

Orthodox Christian protestors argue that the artwork offends their religion

Observers peer through the temporarily constructed walls with fitted peepholes to see the works

"This is my second offense, so I'm expecting a prison sentence"

Yuri Samodurov is the director of the museum and facing charges for inciting religious hatred.

Our centre takes part in various social actions and events and we often let NGOs that are unable to meet elsewhere use rooms here. We try to support people who are being censored and "Forbidden Art" was an exhibition that had already been taken down once in 2006.

Other galleries also show similar works of art. But we are not just a museum; we are a social centre named after the famous dissident Andrei Sakharov. Art exhibitions on show here are perceived as political statements, as a protest against the attempts of the Russian Orthodox Church to become a dominant power in Russian society. The problem is that the church is the only ideological ally for the Russian government. The current powers can't connect with the most basic values of modern society such as political competition, judicial independence, the importance of trade unions and media autonomy. That's why it relies on the church. It's trying to turn Orthodox Christianity into a foundation of modern Russian society. We can't agree with that.

And that's why they insist on prosecuting the centre. The criminal investigator [a person who is supposed to be impartial in investigating the case in Russian procedures] told me, as he laughed, that he's spoken to 160 people and everyone said they wanted our centre to be closed down. He said that if that's what the people want, then it's his job to see that it's done. So essentially it's the fabrication of a criminal case. He's calling on an art expert who also testified for the trial against us in 2005. She's openly admitted that the first and last time she went to a modern art exhibition was in 1993 and she hated it. She said she doesn't even consider modern art to be art at all. It's pretty clear what's her "expert opinion" is going to be like.

The case is obviously political. It's not even the court that decides in the end anyway. It was Putin who had the last word in the 2005 case. Luckily I had a friend who offered to show him a letter of explanation from me. Following that, the Minister of Culture had a talk with one of the heads of the Orthodox Church. And when the sentence was given, I only got a fine rather than the three years in prison that the attorney suggested. What's more, he found my co-accused not guilty, and I thank him for that. But this time it's different. This is my second offense, so I'm expecting a prison sentence. But I'm starting to think of it as part of my job now anyway."

Mickey Mouse journeys through art history, Alexander Savich.