- Title: RUSSIA: Arrested artists to benefit from famed UK artist Banksy
- Date: 14th December 2010
- Summary: MOSCOW, RUSSIA (DECEMBER 14, 2010) (REUTERS) RIGHTS WATCHDOG GROUP 'SOVA' DIRECTOR ALEXANDER VERHOVSKY WALKING IN MOSCOW SQUARE (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RIGHTS WATCHDOG GROUP 'SOVA' DIRECTOR ALEXSANDER VERKHOVSKY SAYING: "They clearly described what their motivations were. There was a declaration on why they did it, and I don't see why it's necessary to think up another motive. It's the wrong interpretation, and because of that, they're going to receive a stronger punishment, and it's not fair." VERHOVSKY TALKING TO REPORTER (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) RIGHTS WATCHDOG GROUP 'SOVA' DIRECTOR ALEXSANDER VERKHOVSKY SAYING: "It seems to me that the law should be enforced properly. I'm not defending the people because I find something nice in them. I simply think the law should be applied correctly to anyone, also unpleasant people."
- Embargoed: 29th December 2010 12:00
- Location: Russian Federation
- Country: Russia
- Topics: Arts / Culture / Entertainment / Showbiz
- Reuters ID: LVA81YSPNQX14H5CKD21HZ095NFA
- Story Text: Famed British street artist Banksy has pledged 4.5 million rubles (147,000 USD) to help defend two artists who were arrested last month for turning over police cars on a Moscow street at night. On Monday (December 13), he sold 175 prints of his piece "Choose Your Weapon," to benefit the artists Leonid Nikolayev and Oleg Vorotnikov and their families.
Nikolayev and Vorotnikov were charged with criminal mischief motivated by political, racial, national or religious hatred or hostility and could face up to five years in prison. The two are now in custody in a St. Petersburg jail.
The two are part of the provocative art group Voina, or "war," which pokes fun at the establishment in a country where traditional opposition to the government has been dulled by public apathy and a diet of pro-Kremlin television news. The police car stunt, called "Palace Revolution," was meant to demand the reform of the Russian Ministry of the Interior, which controls police.
The artists' lawyer has said that police lack enough evidence to charge Nikolayev and Vorotnikov, and Alexsander Verkhovsky, director of rights watchdog group Sova, said the laws applied to the artists' case--meant to punish violent or racist extremists--are being incorrectly applied.
"They clearly described what their motivations were. There was a declaration on why they did it, and I don't see why it's necessary to think up another motive. It's the wrong interpretation, and because of that, they're going to receive a stronger punishment, and it's not fair," Verkhovsky said.
Voina has staged numerous absurdist events over the past few years in Moscow and St. Petersburg, ranging from mischievously trying to pin up portraits of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a Moscow police station to painting a giant phallus on a drawbridge in St. Petersburg that, when lifted, faced the city's Federal Security Bureau headquarters.
A day before the presidential election that Medvedev won by a landslide in 2008, five couples, including one heavily pregnant woman, secretly undressed in Moscow's Biological Museum. With video cameras rolling, they had sex in front of a banner calling for copulation in support of "the bear cub-successor" - a pun on Medvedev's family name, which is derived from the Russian word for bear.
Verhovsky, who said he doesn't count himself a fan of Voina, but like Banksy, said neither his nor anyone's opinions on the artists should affect their standings before the law.
"It seems to me that the law should be enforced properly. I'm not defending the people because I find something nice in them. I simply think the law should be applied correctly to anyone, also unpleasant people," he said.
Banksy himself often operates outside of the artistic mainstream, working at night, creating murals and absurd scenes on private buildings and public property, in addition to paintings and sketches collected by high profile buyers like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and Christina Aguilera.
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