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Kyrgyzstan Museum Director Resigns Following Government Censorship

An exhibition dedicated to women’s rights at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, has been censored by the government, Reuters reports. Among the artworks that have been labeled as too provocative by the state are a performance for which the Danish artist Julie Savery disrobes and a punching bag that is shaped like a woman’s torso dressed in lingerie. After receiving death and rape threats from right-wing nationalists who saw the exhibition as an offense to traditional Kyrgyz values, museum director Mira Djangaracheva stepped down.

A former deputy prime minister in the Muslim majority country, Djangaracheva cited the safety of the exhibition organizers, the “prevailing negative reaction from the national patriotic forces,” and the “rampant obscurantism” of the nationalist group Kyrk Choro (Four Knights), as reasons for her resignation in a Facebook post.

According to Kyrgyzstan media reports, Kyrk Choro claims to be protected by the current administration and supposedly signed a memorandum with the Ministry of Internal Affairs that allows it to take part in matters of crime prevention. The group is allegedly responsible for various assaults on migrants, sex workers, and members of the LGBTQ community.  

In a statement condemning the exhibition, which is billed as the “first Feminnale of contemporary art,” the Ministry of Culture, Information, and Tourism said it “objects to a fashion show by nude women in a temple of art and does not support such provocative gestures by contemporary artists.” The Minister of Culture Azamat Jamankulov also declared that a special commission would be formed to investigate the “scandalous exhibition,” which he called a “campaign with naked women under the flag of feminism.”

Defenders of the exhibition include prominent Kyrgyz lawmaker Elvira Surabaldieva, who applauded the work of women’s rights activists, asserting that without their efforts, she would not have been able to serve in parliament. “It is very interesting that all those who demanded the dismissal of the museum director have been silent when there are people stealing millions from the national budget,” she wrote on Facebook. “We lost the battle against corruption a long time ago, but we are very good at shouting at women.”

Addressing topics ranging from sexual objectification and domestic violence to mental health and economic equality, the exhibition was organized to raise awareness about violence against women. Dedicated to seventeen primarily Kyrgyz women who perished in a warehouse fire in Moscow in 2016 and coinciding with the international campaign against gender-based violence, the show features work by fifty-six artists from twenty-two countries.