Moscow gallery Photodoc has opened a controversial photo exhibition called ‘The Sochi Project’ by award-winning Dutch photographer Rob Honstra and his colleague Arnold van Bruggen.
The two men couldn’t get visas to come to Moscow for the opening of the exhibition so spoke to guests via videolink.
Visas were not the only issue. The exhibition documents the extreme makeover taking place in Sochi in preparation for the 2014 Winter Olympics. A week before the exhibition opened, the original gallery pulled out.
Photodoc’s curator, Alexander Sorin, explained: “There is a huge space at Winzavod and it was supposed to be all made up for this exhibition. What is happening here is a substitution for the real exhibition that should have taken place.”
The project, which combines text, photos and video footage, was openly critical of the impact the Winter Olympics would have on the area. The row comes just as The Netherlands and Russia are celebrating four centuries of diplomatic ties, with a series of high-level political visits, cultural exchanges and trade missions.
Co-curator Yuri Saprykin, said: “At the moment when the Russian-Dutch relations are so strained, it is clear that the fact that the main witnesses of what is happening in Sochi – in this place which is like a black hole when it comes to getting information – are two Dutch citizens… all provoked a very nervous reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry and other authorities.”
The affair follows the beating of a Dutch diplomat in Moscow, a week after President Putin demanded an apology for a Russian diplomat’s alleged beating in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands had earlier launched legal proceedings against Russia, saying it had unlawfully detained activists aboard a Dutch-registered Greenpeace ship who were protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic.
Russia arrested 30 activists on board the ship, including two Dutch citizens, and charged them with piracy, which carries a jail sentence of 15 years.
In April this year, Putin was met in Amsterdam with a gay pride parade where activists waved pink and orange balloons to protest against Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda directed at minors”.