In a few minutes, the best Russian artists manage to raise funds for the legal defense of a feminist artist facing six years in prison

Leading Russian artists and cultural figures have come together to raise funds for Yulia Tsvetkova, an LGBTQ artist-activist who is facing six years in prison for posting feminist cartoons.

Artist Dmitry Gutov and auction house owner Vladimir Ovcharenko launched the Facebook fundraising effort last week to mark the birthday of Tsvetkova’s mother and leading lawyer, Ann Khodyreva, who raised awareness of three simultaneous court cases against the 28-year-old artist in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, a military-industrial town in the Russian Far East. Hearings for the cases will resume in February.

Khodyreva described the situation as “a protracted hell”. The criminal trial is closed to the press and the public.

Tsvetkova first came to the attention of local authorities in 2019 when she led a children’s theater troupe that staged a play dealing with gender issues. In 2020, after the investigation began and after spending months under house arrest, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam acquired 15 of her works, including some of the positive body drawings she was criticized for.

In the Facebook post, Gutov described the case as a “severe criminal trial” against Tsvetkova and lamented the prohibitive costs for her defense. “I know for sure that many of our top artists would donate work to a charity auction to help Yulia.” Alternatively, he suggested, a collector could send to cover Tsvetkova’s costs and be reimbursed with artwork.

To Gutov’s surprise, such a collector, who wished to remain anonymous, appeared within minutes, and many artists began offering their works, including some of the most famous names in contemporary Russian art such as Aidan Salakhova, Vladimir Dubossarsky and Anatoly Osmolovsky.

“When I wrote [my post], I wasn’t counting on anything,” says Gutov The Arts Journal. “It was more or less clear to me that artists are ready to donate works. But that someone wanted to help with money was not planned at all.

Ovcharenko immediately set about organizing the sale, which was to be held on February 26, at his Vladey auction house. He says The arts journal that in addition to Dubossarsky, participating artists also include Sergei Bratkov and Gutov himself.

“To be prosecuted for art and to be threatened with six years in prison for drawings is unacceptable. If hardcore pornography is allowed in Yandex or VKontakte searches, and it is not punishable, why is a helpless artist being persecuted?” Ovcharenko asks.

Khodyreva, who often writes about the hopeless isolation of fighting the charges in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, says “it was my most magical birthday” and described the support of Gutov and other artists as “more than a dream than a reality”.

“The fact that so many artists have stood by our side at least lets us know that we are not alone,” says Khodyreva. “And, as someone correctly wrote [in the comments on Facebook] that regardless of whether you like Yulia’s work or not, the situation is unfair and awful. Yulia is the first, then they can come for anyone.”

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