France is engulfed in an art scandal surrounding the work of Swiss artist Miriam Cahn, depicting Russian war crimes in Ukraine. The painting was accused of promoting paedophilia, and attempts were made to remove it from the exhibition.
Cahn's work, titled fuck abstraction! is part of one of her largest solo exhibitions, which is currently on view at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. The painting depicts a male figure forcing oral sex on a more petite figure whose hands are tied behind the back, artnet writes.
The artist's statement attached to the exhibition notes that this work is a commentary on human rights crimes committed by Russians in Ukraine. She said that she painted the picture after seeing photos of mass graves in Bucha and reports of the rape of women and children by the Russian military in Ukraine. "This is a man whose hands were tied and who was raped before being killed and thrown into the street," Cahn said in a statement.
|Miriam Cahn, fuck abstraction! Photo: François Doury|
However, the painting caused great indignation in part of French society. Thus, talk show host Karl Zero posted a photo of the work on Twitter, calling it "unbearable." "School groups are visiting this exhibition. Imagine the questions the children will ask when they come across this painting," he wrote.
Voilà ce qu'on ose exposer depuis le 17 février au Palais de Tokyo. Une artiste suisse, Miriam Cahn. Décrochez ça vite fait. C'est insupportable. RT en masse, montrons leur qu'on n'est pas d'accord. pic.twitter.com/rK1ZunsZ50— Karl Zero Absolu (@karlitozero) March 5, 2023
"It's garbage," Laurent Ozon, a former adviser to far-right politician Marine Le Pen, wrote about Cahn's painting (the same person, for example, criticises the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant for Putin on Twitter).
In response, the Tokyo Palace issued a statement saying that the work is a response to the real horrors taking place in Ukraine and that it in no way depicts an act of paedophilia.
"These are not children. This painting is about how sexuality is used as a weapon in war, as a crime against humanity. The contrast between the two bodies shows the bodily strength of the oppressor and the victor, who is on his knees and oppressed during the war," the author of the work was quoted as saying in the statement.
Exposition de Miriam Cahn : le tableau « fuck abstraction ! » qui représente des adultes est une dénonciation des crimes de guerre.— Palais de Tokyo (@PalaisdeTokyo) March 7, 2023
Communiqué de presse du 7 mars 2023 ⤵ pic.twitter.com/OgjOWld5fp
However, the scandal continued to gain momentum. It was joined by Caroline Parmentier, a journalist and far-right MP who is a supporter of Marine Le Pen. She posted a video of the painting and signed it: "I condemn this painting by Miriam Ñahn... In the name of protecting children, ..., I ask the Minister of Culture to remove this painting".
Au Palais de Tokyo je dénonce ce tableau de Miriam Cahn qui présente aux yeux de tous une scène de pédocriminalité. Au nom de la protection de l’enfance, en tant que membre de la Délégation aux droits des enfants, je demande à la ministre de la Culture qu’il soit décroché. pic.twitter.com/atbLLNkOQ7— Caroline Parmentier (@Parmentier_RN) March 17, 2023
Last week, the debate over the work reached such a level that French Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak had to defend the artist and her work in parliament. She stated that "freedom of expression and creativity is guaranteed by law."
Also, far-right political forces, along with several children's rights organisations, filed a lawsuit demanding that the Tokyo Palace remove the painting. The court heard the case on Monday, 27 March, and allowed the work to remain in the exhibition.
|Miriam Cahn. Photo: @PalaisdeTokyo / Twitter|
In her ruling, Judge Sylvie Vidal noted that Cahn's painting refers to crimes committed in Bucha during the Russian invasion, so it should not be taken out of context. "This work cannot be perceived outside its context. The work of artist Miriam Cahn aims to condemn the horrors of war, as recalled in the presentation document distributed to the public," she emphasised.
Vidal also opposed the claims that the painting allegedly sexualizes children: "This picture is not child pornography. The main freedoms that are being violated here are freedom of expression and freedom of creativity."
|Other works at Cahn’s exhibition. Photo: @PalaisdeTokyo / Twitter|
The court also ruled that the Tokyo Palace had done enough to prepare viewers for Kahn's shocking art by providing warning texts.