Tuesday 10th October
I arrive in Moscow for the opening of my show “Fifty Seven Hours in the House of Culture,” a series of paintings about the Dubrovka theatre siege of 2002. The exhibition is hosted at the Andrei Sakharov Museum, a memorial to the victims of Russian totalitarianism and a beacon of free expression and human rights in contemporary Russia. After a white-knuckle drive from Domodedovo airport, I check in at the Ukraina Hotel—one of the “seven sisters,” the Stalinist classical-style monoliths scattered around central Moscow, with around a thousand rooms and 27 floors. It is the day of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s funeral. She tried to intercede to resolve the Dubrovka siege peacefully, and I had asked her to write an introduction for the catalogue of the London showing of “Fifty Seven Hours” earlier this year, but she declined.
Wednesday 11th October At the Sakharov Museum I meet Elena, the English-speaking exhibition co-ordinator, and Yuri Samodurov, the museum director. Yuri attended Politkovskaya’s funeral yesterday, and is trying to organise a demonstration in protest over her murder. Two weeks earlier he had been arrested while attending a meeting about the Beslan school massacre. A founder of Memorial, the Russian human rights organisation, he is no stranger to controversy, having been prosecuted three years ago over an exhibition about religion which had “caused offence” to the Orthodox church, and was trashed by fundamentalists. The state wanted him imprisoned for two years, but a leading lawyer got him off with a fine. He tells me of the difficulty he had in finding funding for my exhibition, as the usual sponsors were unwilling to contribute to a show whose theme remains highly contentious. The British Council took four months to tell us that they would not be helping, but that may be because I am not on their list of approved artists (they refuse to give reasons). Eventually money was pledged by the director of a mobile phone company, who doesn’t want his contribution acknowledged. Yuri tells me that two television channels have been in touch to cover the show, but he has declined rather than accept what he knows will be negative coverage.
The installation is being done by Valery, Elena’s architect/designer partner. The gallery is a big converted stable/garage, the walls a riot of exposed brickwork. Valery proposes suspending the…