Manifesta sticks to St Petersburg despite “gay propaganda” law

Manifesta sticks to St Petersburg despite "gay propaganda" law
Gay Pride in St Petersburg, Russia. Photograph: Valya Egorshin under a CC licence

4 September 2013

European art festival Manifesta will be sticking to its decision to host the biennial at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg next year, despite a petition urging the organisers to change location to protest the country’s anti-gay laws.

Hedwig Fijen, director of Manifesta, said: “To withdraw would mean to ignore the voices of our contemporaries and emerging generations in Russia. In developing this project in Russia we have listened to representatives of the Russia LGBT communities and have overwhelmingly heard that Manifesta’s presence is both welcomes and necessary. We do not believe isolating Russia is the right direction to take, especially as it deprives younger people of access to a broader scope of voices and points of view.”

A petition calling on Fijen to change the location of the 2014 biennial has gathered close to 2,000 signatures. The petition’s author, Irish artist and curator Noel Kelly, added that it was important to “send a message to the Russian government that such draconian measures will not be tolerated … In particular, the art world community must act now and request that Manifesta is either awarded to a different city, postponed until human rights are restored or cancelled as a sign of support for the LGBT community.”

Manifesta selected the State Hermitage Museum as the location for the biennial last year, before the federal law banning “gay propaganda” was passed. The legislation, voted for unanimously in June, has sparked international ire and led to a rise in homophobic violence in Russia. Under the law, anyone found guilty of spreading either “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors” or a “distorted conception of the equivalent between traditional and non-traditional sexual relationships” can be fined up to 1 million roubles ($30,000).

The legislation has resulted in calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi by a number of high-profile individuals including British actor Stephen Fry. Other cultural figures have rejected invitations to visit Russia, citing the anti-gay law. Last month, Wentworth Miller, star of TV series Prison Break, announced he would not be attending the International Film Festival in St Petersburg; German playwright Marius von Mayenburg declined an invitation to attend a production of one of his plays in Moscow; and US television personality Andy Cohen rejected an offer to co-host the upcoming Miss Universe pageant.

Within Russia, however, a number of LGBT organisations have spoken out against boycotts. St Petersburg-based group Coming Out said: “We are very grateful for any kind of international support to LGBT citizens in Russia as it’s important that people do not feel further isolated in the current climate of repressions, homophobic aggression, and intimidation ... we truly believe it is important to keep all channels open and enable all possible communications to challenge human rights violations at every opportunity, whether they are cultural or sporting events, business opportunities or political campaigns.”

Manifesta 10 will take place from 28 June to October 2014. The biennial of contemporary art was launched 19 years ago in response to the new social, cultural and political reality that emerged in the aftermath of the Cold War. The roving festival aims to bring contemporary art to new territories and in the past has been held in Rotterdam, Holland (1996); Ljubljana, Slovenia (2000); and Murcia and Categena, Spain (2010).