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Russian Authorities Are Deciding If It’s Illegal to Paint Putin in a Negligee

Russian police are flexing their newly appointed authority under the country's anti-gay propaganda law

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On Tuesday, police raided an exhibit at St. Petersburg’s Museum of Authority, taking several works of art. Among them was a portrait of Vladimir Putin in a negligee and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev sporting a busty female body. The police, apparently, did not see the humor in the satirical painting. The artist has fled the country in the interest of safety: he fears criminal charges as authorities “have already said directly that my exhibition is extremist,” Agence France Presse reported.

The artist, Konstantin Altunin, might have been right in his assumption that getting out of town was the best plan of action. Earlier this summer, Russia passed a law that, effectively, outlawed any discussion or representation of homosexuality. In late July, Dutch filmmakers became the first tourists arrested under the new law, Salon reports, after they were caught interviewing young people about their views on homosexuality for a documentary they’re making about human rights. One of the other paintings Altunin contributed to the exhibit—at the gallery’s request—was of a lawmaker who had led push to ban “gay propaganda,”  The Wall Street Journal reports:

One painting depicted St. Petersburg politician Vitaly Milonov – who spearheaded a local “gay propaganda” law that became inspiration for similar national legislation – against a rainbow background. The law bans people from expressing support for “non-traditional” lifestyles in front of minors. A national version of it was signed into law in June.

Mr. Milonov accompanied police at the gallery, according to Mr. Donskoi. The officers confiscated the portrait of Mr. Milonov – which was hanging on the wall between two sexually-explicit paintings, according to photos – as well as the painting depicting Messrs. Putin and Medvedev in women’s underwear.

Authorities also took two other works of art. One was a painting of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill with criminal-style tattoos mixing Soviet and religious iconography. The other was one of Yelena Mizulina, the Kremlin-allied Duma deputy and morality crusader who led the drive to pass Russia’s “gay propaganda” law nationally. That painting was entitled “The Erotic Dreams of Deputy Mizulina.”

Altunin’s painting of Putin and Medvedev, however, wasn’t even meant to comment on the law, he said. It was inspired by the two officials’ “job swap with Putin returning to the Kremlin and Medvedev becoming prime minister,” the AFP says. Russia’s Interior Ministry has said that the four “paintings that have been sent off for analysis, on the basis of which a procedural decision will be made,” the Journal reports.

Gay-themed works are not the only pieces of art in peril in Russia. either. On June 21, a gallery curator lost his job after refusing to censor a politically charged exhibition that used the symbols of the upcoming Sochi Olympics to portray a darker, more sinister vision of the new Russia.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Is It Possible to Move the Winter Olympics Away from Russia? 
The United States Isn’t the Only Country Asking the Gay Marriage Question

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