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Open Letter Regarding Censorship at the 1st Feminnale of Contemporary Art (Kyrgyzstan)

December 9, 2019

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Participants of the Feminnale from 22 countries have drawn up an open letter to President of Kyrgyzstan expressing their outrage regarding assaults by right-wing radical groups against the modern art exhibition at the Gapar Aitiev museum. “It is symbolic that this act of governmental violence towards female artists took place during the International Week on the Elimination of Violence against Women” – says the message.

Dear President Jeenbekov,

On behalf of all the artists participating in the first Feminnale of Contemporary Art, which is taking place at the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts named after G. Aitieva, I want to express my protest and share with you my indignation over what is now happening around the exhibition.

The Minister of Culture, Azamat Zhamankulov, performed an act of censorship at the exhibition, being influenced by extremist right-wing radical groups that have nothing to do with culture and art. Minister arbitrarily banned several works from the show, and the organizers, under his pressure, were forced to take them down.

Symbolically, this act of state violence against artists was carried out during the International Week for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is deplorable that this happens only a few days after the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic at the Tech Summit on November 19 expressed, in your presence, the commitment of the Kyrgyz Republic to the principles of gender equality. The Forum’s declaration states that “special attention shall be paid to gender equality, the empowerment of women in all spheres and the fight against discrimination and violence based on gender differences,” but the actions of the Minister of Culture contradict this declaration.

Also, these actions of the minister directly violate the commitments made by the Kyrgyz Republic under the UN Sustainable Development program, since the censored exhibition and artworks removed on the notice of the minister directly concern human rights and gender equality.

Organizers of the exhibition continue to receive public threats from radical groups, and the police are not taking any action to protect their citizens from these extremist attacks.

According to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, the actions of religious groups aimed at inciting social discord are prohibited (Article 4, paragraph 5), the state and its bodies serve the whole society, and not a part of it (Article 5, paragraph 1), no association, no individual has the right to appropriate power in the state (Article 5, paragraph 2), no one may be discriminated against based on sex, political affiliation or beliefs (Article 16, paragraph 2), the established right to freedom of thought and opinion is not subject to any restriction ( article 20, paragraph 5), everyone has the right to freedom and personal safety (Article 24, paragraph 1), everyone has the right to privacy, protection of honor and dignity (Article 29, paragraph 1), and the Constitution explicitly prohibits the promotion of national, ethnic, racial, religious hatred, gender, and other social superiority, calling for discrimination, hostility or violence (Article 31, paragraph 4).
The Minister of Culture and right-wing radical groups attacking the organizers of the exhibition directly violate all these points of the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic. Officials at this level who violate the country’s Constitution are a disgrace to the country. And the whole world already knows about it.

According to the Constitution of the Kyrgyz Republic, Everyone is guaranteed the freedom of all kinds of creativity (Article 49, paragraph 1), and the state only supports traditions that do not infringe on human rights and freedoms (Article 37, paragraph 1). The minister, following the example of right-wing radical groups wishing to dictate their own rules, and under the guise of national traditions broadcasting the rhetoric of hatred and violence, first commits a crime against citizens of his country, setting a precedent for flagrant lawlessness and arbitrariness, which impairs the country’s image in the international arena.

In addition, by carrying out such an act of censorship, the Minister of Culture has demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the fundamental principles of culture: culture does not require state management, culture requires support, culture does not tolerate censorship.

Misunderstanding and violation of these principles indicate the complete professional inaptitude of Azamat Zhamankulov as Minister of Culture.

We, the undersigned participants of the Feminnale, artists from 22 countries of the world who have very rich experience working with many cultural institutions, which allows us to judge such things, consider the Minister of Culture Azamat Zhamankulov unsuitable for the performance of his professional duties and an extremely harmful manager for culture since he impedes the development of culture in the Republic, guided by the interests of extremist groups that have no relation to culture and directly violate the laws of the Kyrgyz Republic.

We, the undersigned members of the Feminnale, female artists from 22 countries, demand that Azamat Zhamankulov be removed from office given his professional inaptitude for this position; we demand the reinstatement of the director of the Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts named after G. Aitieva to the Mira Dzhangaracheva, who was forced to resign under the unlawful pressure and threats from right-wing radical groups; we also demand that the ban on censorship be enshrined in law and thus stop all further attempts to censor the country.

Respectfully,
The Undersigned Members of the Feminnale

Zoya Falkova, artist (Kazakhstan)
Bermet Borubayeva, artist (Kyrgyzstan)
Nina Zhdanovich, artist (Lituania/Japan)
Lia Dostleva, artist, anthropologist of culture (Ukraine)
Elena Nebesnaya, artist (Ukraine)
Nikulenkova Natalia, artist (Russia)
Sandra Araújo, artist (Portugal)
Anya Kislaya, artist (Ukraine)
Małgorzata Greszta, artist, (Poland)
Nadia Valetskaya, artist from Nadenka Creative Association (Russia)
Maria Alexandrova, artist from Nadenka Creative Association (Russia)
Alyona Isakhanyan, artist from Nadenka Creative Association (Russia)
Maria Rybka, artist from Nadenka Creative Association (Russia)
Anastasia Makarenko, artist from Nadenka Creative Association (Russia)
Maria Kapajeva, artist (UK)
Efrat Cybulkiewicz, illustrator, painter, photographer (Colombia/ Venezuela/ Israel/ Italy)
Lola Nevado, artist, painter (Spain)
Marija Ančić, artist (Croatia)
Alyona Kojevnikova, artist, journalist (Russia)
Claudia Holzinger, artist (Germany)
Weronika Jurkiewicz, filmmaker (Poland)
Alexandra Filatova, artist (Kyrgyzstan)
Lucia Lopez Garcia-Montejo, filmmaker (Uruguay)
Mark Blickley, artist (USA)
Frie J. Jacobs, artist (Belgium)
Julie Savery, Performance artist (Denmark)
Amy Bassin, artist (USA)
Helena Stiasny, artist (Poland)
Madina Sargali, artist (Kazakhstan)
Camille Pueyo, artist (France)
Aisulu Shaikenova, artist (Kazakhstan)
Katya Nko, artist (Ukraine)
Nargiza Ryskulova, artist (Kyrgyzstan)
Aigerim Ospanova, artist (Kazakhstan)
Engelhardt Anna, artist (Russia)
Krisztina Arláth, artist (Hungary)
Aruzhan Zhumabek, artist (Kazakhstan)
Mascha Danzis, Interdisciplinary artist, professor of St. Petersburg State University on the subject “Feminism and post-feminism in contemporary art” (Germany/Russia)
Yelena Kurlova, ceramic artist (Russia)
Oksana Kapishnikova, independent curator, art critic (Kyrgyzstan)

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