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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Disneyfied Jesus Riles Church Elders

Paintings portraying Jesus Christ as Mickey Mouse and Vladimir Lenin are prompting charges of abuse of religious symbols by Russian Orthodox Church leaders.

The paintings, part of the "Forbidden Art" exhibit at the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center, went on ­display March 7.

"The curator has simply broken the law," church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin said. "Defacing a religious ­symbol such as Jesus Christ is not art. It is a civil crime."

Curator Andrei Yerofeyev countered: "Chaplin just wants to make a name for himself." Saying it is not for the church to decide what is art, he added: "Only an artist knows how to portray ­Jesus."

Yerofeyev noted that artistic freedom is one of the guiding principles of the exhibit, which features banned paintings, collages and photographs from the last 30 years.

So far, the exhibit has drawn about 80 visitors.

The contentious paintings include a work by Alexander Savko featuring a Christ-like figure in the form of the Walt Disney mouse addressing a crowd of saints and disciples. The painting comes from a 1995 series titled "The Journey of Mickey Mouse."

Igor Tabakov / MT
One of Savko's paintings from his series "The Journey of Mickey Mouse."
The second eyebrow-raising artwork depicts the crucifixion. In place of Christ's head, however, is the Order of Lenin medal, which shows a profile of the Father of all Fathers.

Lending all the paintings in the exhibit the cache of forbidden fruit, a giant white screen blocks them from the outside world. To view them, viewers must look through peepholes that are a bit too high for comfortable viewing. The ­museum has helpfully provided a stepladder.

Museum-goers are uncommitted.

"I haven't decided whether I like the exhibit or not," said Valentina ­Nikolayeva, 63, an Orthodox believer, as she descended the stepladder after viewing a collage of Jesus next to a McDonalds logo. Beneath the logo are the words: "This is My Body." Nikolayeva added, "But maybe that's the point."

It is important to document the "social censorship mechanism" at work, Yerofeyev said. "To do that, we are simply showing the dynamic of censorship in Soviet and post-Soviet times," he said.

Other works in the exhibition feature swear words and fornicating soldiers.