Banksy, the world’s most famous graffitist, is to donate almost ￡80,000 (US$126,000) to a controversial Russian art group, two of whose members are in prison awaiting trial on charges of hooliganism.
The secretive British street artist was expected to give all proceeds of a print sale yesterday to the Voina (War) collective, which is notorious for radical actions such as staging an orgy in a Moscow museum and painting a huge phallus on a bridge in St Petersburg.
Banksy is offering a print of his work Choose Your Weapon to each of 175 people randomly drawn from those registered to buy on picturesonwalls.com.
“Each print is ￡450 but if it’s any consolation Banksy is donating all royalties to the Voina artist cooperative in Russia, two of whom are currently residing in a St Petersburg jail,” the site said.
Oleg Vorotnikov, 35, and Leonid Nikolayev, 27, were detained in Moscow last month and charged in connection with an anti-corruption protest called Palace Revolution in St Petersburg in September, when members of Voina overturned several police cars in the center of the city. They could face up to seven years in prison.
Police claim the group caused thousands of dollars worth of damage, but Russia’s tight-knit art community has called for their release, saying the charges are excessive.
Voina has directed many of its actions at state officials and politicians, saying they are part of a war for the “destruction of outdated repressive-patriarchal sociopolitical symbols and ideologies.”
Alexei Plutser-Sarno, Voina’s chief ideologue, said that Banksy had contacted the group after hearing about the imprisoned pair.
“We’re very grateful for his support,” he said. “Banksy’s help will attract the attention of the whole world to the personal repression aimed at us, as well as to the greater problem of liquidation of democracy in Russia.”
Plutser-Sarno fled from Russia to Estonia last month, claiming he had information that police were about to arrest him.
He claimed that Vorotnikov and Nikolayev had plastic bags placed over their heads when they were arrested and police kicked them in the head and kidneys as they lay on the floor of a vehicle.
Voina carried out one of its most scandalous acts in June when members painted a 65 meters long erect penis on a drawbridge in St Petersburg. When raised, the decoration faced the city headquarters of the FSB, the federal security service.
Two years ago, members of Voina staged an orgy in Moscow’s state biological museum under a banner reading “Fuck for the heir, Little Bear,” seen as a criticism of Dmitry Medvedev, whose surname derives from the Russian word for bear, and who was widely seen as the anointed successor of then Russian president, now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin
In other exploits, Voina members have thrown cats at McDonald’s workers to “alleviate their boredom”.