Moscow art show under scrutiny over allegations of sacrilege

Moscow, Russia - A controversial art exhibition came under official scrutiny in Moscow Wednesday as prosecutors launched an inquiry in response to a suit by a Christian organization that accused the show's curators of defacing religious symbols.

The Forbidden Art 2006 display, now open at Moscow's Andrei Sakharov Community Center, displays artworks that were barred from Moscow's mainstream museums and galleries last year, the center said on its Web site.

The show features pictures portraying Jesus Christ as Mickey Mouse and Communist leader Vladimir Lenin, as well as pornography scenes painted on the Crucifix and other Christian symbols.

Narodny Sobor, an umbrella organization comprising over 200 Orthodox Christian associations across Russia, is suing the organizers for allegedly insulting religious feelings and instigating strife. It has insisted that criminal proceedings be instituted against them.

"This is a provocative show, which insults the religious feelings of the Russian people, instigates religious strife and dishonors the military uniform with depictions of pornographic homosexual scenes," said Oleg Kassin, a coordinator with Narodny Sobor. "The show grossly violates public order and morality."

The allegedly anti-Christian display is causing increasingly wide resonance in Russia ahead of Easter, the Orthodox Church's most important observance.

However, Sakharov Center Director Yuri Samodurov dismissed demands to open a criminal case as absurd, saying the show "damages neither property nor health."

He argued that events perceived as insulting to the religious feelings of the faithful may be banned from being staged near houses of worship, but that museums and exhibition halls are zones that function according to their own laws.

"We did not mean to hurt anyone's deep feelings with that display. The idea behind it was to monitor what is deemed inadmissible by other galleries and museums."

The Sakharov center found itself at the center of a similar scandal in 2005 when it hosted an equally controversial exhibition, "Beware Religion." Samodurov was then convicted of instigating ethnic and religious strife, but escaped with paying a fine.