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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exhibition Against Trophy Killing

The photograph of the innocent-looking cub sitting amid pine trees commands instant adoration. But the plaque below offers a brutal counterpoint: "Killed by Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin, January 1997." Nearby, a photograph shows a sheep with ribbons tied in its fur looking sideways toward the camera. "Killed at the Moscow '97 Art Fair, March 1997," reads the explanation.


The photos are not those of the actual victims, but they are meant to draw attention to the plight of such animals at the hands of politicans and artists. The idea for "The results of the 1996-1997 Hunting Season," an exhibit that runs through the weekend at the naive art gallery Dar, came to owner Sergey Tarabarov after he saw a tendency in Russia to use "the sadistic killing of animals as a form of artistic expression or as a means of proving one's manliness." Tarabarov, 42, considers this trend "a dangerous example for our children at a time when Russian society is becoming immune to daily violence and cruelty."


Hunting has a long tradition among Russia's elite, from tsars to Politburo members. But Tarabarov points out that recently, politicians have been hunting as publicity stunts -- in what they view as a display of power and masculinity -- while disobeying the rules of the game. "Real hunters go to the taiga and match their forces with a bear one-on-one. In Chernomyrdin's case, the poor bear and her cubs were surrounded by hunters, bodyguards and helicopters," said Tarabarov.


The gallery owner chides the presidential administration for claiming last September that Boris Yeltsin shot 40 ducks in an attempt to prove that the president was in good health. "First of all, it is impossible to kill this many ducks in one day of hunting," Tarabarov said. "Second, the only 'ducks' he could take on in his condition then were the hospital bedpans." Playing on the fact that in Russian the word for duck and bedpan are the same -- utka-- 40 bedpans mounted on a large canvas hangs in one corner of the gallery.


Tarabarov and his wife Zhenya were distressed last year to see three roosters crucified in a display at the Marat Gelman gallery, which is located accross the hall in the same building that houses Dar. "After two roosters were murdered and crucified during the opening, the third one stayed in the same room with its dead brothers. We heard him nervously squawking all night long," recalled Tarabarov. "This is sadism, not art." Dar's exhibit shows three separate photos of the actual roosters before they were killed.


Tarabarov thinks Russia should outlaw public violence against animals. He has enlisted the support of the liberal daily Novaya Gazeta to conduct a poll to gauge support of such legislation, and says Duma deputy Yury Shchekachikhin and members of the liberal Yabloko Party have expressed interest. Visitors to the exhibit and readers of Novaya Gazeta are offered a survey, asking them if they support the idea of such a new law. Those disagreeing must cross out endearing cartoons of a rooster, a bear or a sheep.


Marat Gelman, at whose gallery the roosters were killed, was humbled as he signed his support for a law in the survey. "If society begins to find such forms of expression unacceptable, I will abide by these rules," he said. Only one person has crossed out an animal so far, with 200 odd surveys returned.


Still, Tarabarov believes it will take a long time for many Russians to be interested in animal rights issues. "But we have to start somewhere," he said. At the moment he is dreaming of his next exhibit: a show that will somehow display all animals which have fallen victim to the male insecurities of Russia's rulers. Tarabarov will have to acquire a much larger gallery space for that one.