The art exhibition Feminnale was supposed to provoke thought and reflection, but in Kyrgyzstan it sparked reaction from a nationalist group that led to the dismissal of a museum director and the removal of several of the works on display.
Femminale opened at the Gapar Aytiev Fine Arts Museum in Bishkek on November 28 and was timed to coincide with an annual international campaign, 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Some of the work was intentionally controversial and some pieces and performances included nudity.
The nationalist group Kyrk Choro, which has targeted feminist-oriented events in Kyrgyzstan before, including the March 8 rally for International Women’s Day this year, took exception to the Feminnale exhibit on moral grounds and complained to the culture minister. The culture minister subsequently dismissed museum director Mira Jangaracheva.
The exhibition continues but several works that were deemed offensive were ordered to be removed. Jangaracheva and some of the artists received threats.
The UN resident coordinator in Kyrgyzstan, Ozonnia Ojielo, released a statement criticizing “numerous instances of deplorable verbal abuse and death threats against artists, women activists, and rights defenders,” and reminding that “Public debate on all societal issues goes hand in hand with growth and development of all modern states. States carry an overriding obligation to ensure that such debate is free from incitement to hatred and violence against women and all groups in society."
WATCH: 'Free The Nipples': Feminist Art Censored In Kyrgyzstan
RFE/RL's Media-Relations Manager Muhammad Tahir moderated a discussion on the controversy surrounding the Feminnale exhibition.
Participating in the session from Turkey was Janna Arayeva, a co-curator of the Feminnale exhibition and also an activist in the Bishkek Feminist Initiative. Taking part from Kyiv was Bermet Talant, a Kyrgyz journalist currently working in Ukraine but author of many articles about Central Asia. And joining from Bishkek was Kazakh artist Zoya Falkova, whose work using a punching bag to depict a woman’s torso was among the pieces that were removed from the exhibition in Bishkek.
I was an art student way back in college, so I was unpleasantly surprised to see some of the reactions to Feminnale and anxious to say a few things of my own about this turn of events.