February 12, 2024

A Criminal Doll


A Criminal Doll
Doll with prison tattoos, artwork by Vasily Slonov. Mediazona, Telegram.

On February 9, it was reported that artist Vacily Slonov was detained at Krasnoyarsk airport while heading to Kazakhstan after police opened an investigation into his artwork for the use of prison tattoos.

This is not the first run-in with the law for Slonov, who identifies himself as a member of the "Siberian ironic conceptualism" artistic movement. In 2013, Slonov's exhibition "Welcome! Sochi 2014" at the White Nights Festival captured international attention. The exhibit included satirical cartoons, including the animated character Cheburashka chasing athletes and Olympic rings made with nooses. The gallerist in charge of the festival, Magat Gelman, was subsequently fired from his job.

In 2018, the pro-Kremlin group SERB vandalized his Moscow exhibit "Celestial Jerusalem" for featuring a painting of President Vladimir Putin combined with a skull and a quote from the Old Testament.

Most recently, in October 2023, the 54-year-old exhibited a doll covered in prison tattoos in the Krasnoyarsk Novotel. In response, a tribunal fined him and ordered the destruction of his piece for the use of the forbidden symbology of the AUE, an underground youth criminal network that is classified as an extremist organization.

On February 8, police opened a criminal case against the artist for uploading a picture of his tattooed doll exhibit on his VKontakte. The post was quickly taken down and his VKontakte account was deleted. On that same day, security forces raided his house and workshop and confiscated all his electronic devices. On February 9, Slonov's wife announced her husband's arrest on his Instagram account, Gulag ToysThe artist was stopped by police while "about to fly to Kazakhstan," according to Mediazona. 

On February 10, Slonov told the court he was going to Almaty to visit museums. The artist denounced the investigators for causing psychological duress during his detention. The court sentenced him to two months of house arrest.

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