Russian Artist Yulia Tsvetkova Begins Hunger Strike

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Facing up to six years in prison on charges of distributing pornography over the internet, Russian artist and LGBTQ activist Yulia Tsvetkova declared a hunger strike beginning May 1, The Art Newspaper reports. The 2019 charges are in relation to body-positive feminist drawings, some featuring abstract representations of female genitalia, that Tsvetkova posted to The Vagina Monologues, a feminist social media group. The artist has since spent time under house arrest and in February 2020 was recognized by Russia’s Human Rights Memorial Center as a political prisoner.

On March 31, Tsvetkova’s mother, Anna Khodryreva, announced on social media that the court had ruled her daughter’s trial be closed owing to “intimate” details that might arise in relation to the “pornographic” works. Amnesty International on April 9 released a statement demanding that Russian authorities “stop trying to hide this Kafkaesque absurdity behind closed doors.” Nevertheless, Tsvetkova’s closed trial began April 12 in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, an industrial city of roughly 200,000 near Russia’s eastern edge.

In her first social media post in eight months, Tsvetkova wrote on her mother’s Facebook page, “My requirement is simple. “I ask the state to ‘be a man.’” She called for her trial to be open to the public, citing the reasons for closing it as “far-fetched,” and asked that it not be needlessly and endlessly dragged out. “My case is not unique,” she noted.

“Am I scared?” the twenty-seven-year-old artist wrote. “I suppose I am. But I don’t have much to lose. My health was ruined some time ago already. Thanks to the action of the state, I have almost no ties to work, colleagues, or friends. I have only my dignity, and now I am glad that I am doing what my conscience says.”

Fifteen of Tsvetkova’s drawings were acquired late last year by the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which described her voice and those of like-minded artists, whose work it also purchased, as “systematically silenced by the Russian state.” The museum, renowned for its collection of Russian avant-garde art, acknowledged that the acquisition represented not only a “renewed focus” on collecting work from Russia but an expression of its solidarity with the country’s persecuted artists.

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