Following the state censorship of a feminist exhibition at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a group of artists whose works were included in the show signed an open letter addressed to the president of the country, which denounced the government’s interference at the institution and called for minister of culture Azamat Jamankulov to step down, the Art Newspaper reports.
Dubbed the first Femminale of contemporary art, the exhibition—which dealt with issues of women’s rights ranging from domestic violence to economic equality—was targeted by conservative lawmakers who viewed the biennial as too provocative. Jamankulov described the show as a “campaign with naked women under the flag of feminism” and announced he would establish a special commission to investigate the exhibition.
The public outcry over the works in the exhibition was centered around pieces that involved nudity, abortion, and LGBTQ rights such as a performance in which Danish artist Julie Savery undresses. Among the works that were removed from the museum is a punching bag that is shaped like a woman’s torso by Zoya Falkova.
The backlash in the Muslim majority country was sparked by concern over the loss of traditional Kyrgyz values and fueled by politicians who condemned the show. The controversy led to the departure of museum director Mira Djangaracheva, who left following death and rape threats that were made against the organizers of the Femminale. After she stepped down, the minister of culture hired Aigul Mambetkazieva as her replacement.
The authors of the open letter argue that freedom of thought and freedom from discrimination based on sex or political stance are protections outlined in the country’s constitution. The artists demand that the authorities take action against those responsible for threatening the safety of those involved with the exhibition and that Djangaracheva be reinstated.
“The minister of culture has demonstrated a complete misunderstanding of the fundamental principles of culture: culture does not require state management, culture requires support, culture does not tolerate censorship,” the letter reads.