Controversy over MNHA exhibition ignites

The non-profit association LUkraine protests against the exhibition “The Rape of Europe” in the MNHA. The museum denies the allegations.

war in Ukraine

The non-profit association LUkraine protests against the exhibition “The Rape of Europe” in the MNHA. The museum denies the allegations.

(S.MN. with Marc THILL) Fortunately, the National Museum of Art and History (MNHA) was in contact with Russian-born artist Maxim Kantor well before the start of the war in Ukraine. Kantor is known for his extremely critical stance on Putin’s regime and recent developments in Russia.

Régis Moes, curator of the National Museum of History and Art Luxembourg, takes us behind the scenes of the exhibition “The Colonial Past of Luxembourg” which opens this Thursday evening.

The artist spontaneously agreed to exhibit more than 60 of his works under the title “The Rape of Europe” (“Le Viol de l’Europe” in French, editor’s note), which reflects the totalitarian and aggressive character of the contemporary Russian regime exposed. But today the Ukrainian community in Luxembourg is deeply disappointed by this exhibition, which opens its doors this Thursday. The museum denies these allegations. “The artist’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is very problematic,” wrote Nicolas Zharov, president of ASBL LUkraine, in an open letter he published on Thursday.

And this despite the fact that the museum and the artist claimed that the exhibition “The Rape of Europe” was a statement against Russian imperialism and militarism. In promoting the exhibition on social media, Maxim Kantor equated the suffering of Ukrainians with that of Russian families whose loved ones were killed during this invasion.

Maxim Kantor in 2018 during his exhibition at the Simoncini Gallery in Luxembourg.

Maxim Kantor in 2018 during his exhibition at the Simoncini Gallery in Luxembourg.

Photo: Marc Thill

“I make no distinction between victims of war: in my eyes they all deserve compassion.” This comparison is “highly offensive to the Ukrainian community and the victims of this war,” said Nicolas Zharov.

We cannot condone Mr. Kantor equating victim and perpetrator, we find his statement that both should enjoy the same level of compassion absolutely despicable

Nicolas Zharov, Ukraine asbl

Just following orders?

Maxim Kantor claims that the killed Russian soldiers were deceived by propaganda. To which the Ukrainians reply: “It is simply impossible that the perpetrators of the Boutcha, Irpin and Hostomel massacres, which literally executed more than 400 innocent civilians, were somehow ‘tricked’ into genocide”.

“And it would be equally impossible to claim that the many recorded rapes (including those by minors) were ordered by the Russian state and that the perpetrators were ‘just obeying orders.’ It would be equally ridiculous to suggest that the videotaped incidents of looting and theft – in many cases the perpetrators sent the loot to Russia – were motivated by anything other than simple human greed,” he continued.

“We cannot condone the fact that Mr. Kantor puts victims and perpetrators on an equal footing, we find his statement that both should be shown the same level of compassion absolutely abhorrent,” writes Nicolas Zharov.

ASBL LUkraine says that Maxim Kantor wants to distribute the proceeds of this exhibition equally between Ukrainian and Russian families. “If Mr. Kantor’s earnings from the exhibition were additionally taxed in Russia, it would support the regime he is said to be protesting against and would also directly fund the offensive in Europe.”

No financial support according to MNHA

In the meantime, the museum emphasizes in its statement that Maxim Kantor does not receive any financial support for this project, neither from the MNHA nor from third parties. The artist would have paid part of the cost of transporting the exhibited works. As a sign of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, the museum does not ask for admission to the exhibition. Visitors are encouraged to donate to the Red Cross. The funds generated in this way are intended exclusively for the aid program of the Luxembourg Red Cross for Ukrainian refugees in Luxembourg and are managed directly by the Red Cross.

“Minotaur”, a work of the artist

Photo: Maxim Kantor

The museum also recalls that Maxim Kantor is an artist who, both as a painter and a writer, has long been recognized as one of the most prominent critics of Russian imperialism and the development of Russian society towards neo-oligarchic feudalism. “It is completely unfounded to accuse Maxim Kantor of an affinity with Putin’s regime or of supporting Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine based on a misinterpreted statement on Facebook,” said Michel Polfer, director of the MNHA.

Kantor demands a trial against Putin

“In his personal statement in the exhibition catalog that is currently being printed, he even calls for an international trial against Putin and everyone responsible at various levels for the Russian attack on Ukraine and the numerous war crimes.”

The weekend promises to be wet, cold and not very sunny. But no reason to stay at home. Take advantage of this mixed weather to have new experiences.

At the same time, according to Michel Polfer, it is clear that the responsibility for his personal opinions and expressions lies solely with the artist, while the museum bears full responsibility for the content and objectives of the exhibition. Remember that The Rape of Europe will be held at the National Museum of History and Art until October 16, 2022.

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