Art and a Bored Judge at the Khodorkovsky Trial

Defendant Platon Lebedev and his lawyer by Yekaterina Belyavskaya.

Over the last couple of months, artists have headed to Moscow’s Khamovnichesky District Court to capture one of the biggest trials in Russia’s history: the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once the country’s wealthiest man.

Thirty-five artists have been to the courtroom, producing a total of 400 sketches, portraits and caricatures of the trial and the best of them can now be seen at the Central House of Artists.

One of the winners, British artist Davina Garrido De Miguel, was the only foreign participant in the competition.

“Being part of this competition was an amazing experience,” she said. “My personal highlight was when I had to show my sketches to Khodorkovsky, who seemed so miserable in his glass cage. When he saw them, he laughed and asked to see more.”

The winning drawings are all very different. Some try to capture the whole courtroom process in one picture, a snapshot of the moment, others focus on the lawyers, the judge or even gossiping journalists watching the trial. A few are openly sympathetic to Khodorkovsky

Sergei Kuznetsov Content Group, one of the biggest Russian web studios, started the contest that invited anyone to submit drawings of Khodorkovsky’s trial. The six winners get a trip to New York to study art.

The competition is an attempt to revive the art of courtroom drawings. Russia has a history of courtroom artists going back to the trials of anti-tsarist revolutionaries in the late nineteenth century. Cartoonist Boris Yefimov produced powerful drawings from the Nuremburg trials of Nazi war criminals after the Second World War, but courtroom drawings are little used these days.

“When we decided to do a competition of this kind, we chose the Khodorkovsky trial as it is a very prominent case,” said Zlata Ponirovskaya. The contest was organized without the participation of Khodorkovsky and his lawyers, she said.

Ponirovskaya said she was very surprised that none of the artists expressed an anti-Khodorkovsky view with their drawings.

“If not a single participant sided with the accusing party, that means 100 percent of all artists consider this trial a sham,” Ponirovskaya said.

“Risuyem Sud” or “Drawing the Court” runs till Sept. 28 at the Central House of Artists, 10 Krymski Val. Metro Oktyabrskaya, Park Kultury. Tel. 230-1782,