A group of Dutch political-protest artists have launched a new project intended to give Russians a subtle -- and legal -- way to protest against the country’s notorious law against gay "propaganda."
Their new app, called Raduga (Rainbow, in Russian), simply tracks weather forecasts across Russia and sends users an alert when a rainbow is expected in their area. Users can then photograph the rainbow and post it on social media, a seemingly nonprosecutable way of expressing solidarity with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community that has adopted the rainbow as its symbol of tolerance and inclusion.
“The beauty of the project is that it can provoke commentary on the political situation, but it does so with humor, without nailing one’s scrotum to the pavement of Red Square,” says one of the project’s creators, Cecilia Hendrikx, referring to a 2013 political protest by Pyotr Pavlensky against indifference in modern Russian society.
“It is more poetic,” Hendrikx adds, “and less dangerous.”
In 2013, Russia adopted a law making it illegal to expose minors to materials promoting “nontraditional sexual relations” or presenting “distorted ideas about the equal social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.”
The Raduga project was conceived shortly after the law passed. In 2014, Hendrikx and fellow Dutch artist Tara Karpinski were invited to create a public art performance in St. Petersburg as part of the bilateral Netherlands-Russia Year of Friendship marked that year.
“Our goal was to have a group artistic performance in a public space, which was already quite difficult to do in Russia, without directly violating the law and at the same time pointing out their ridiculousness,” Hendrikx says.
So a group of five artists dressed up as well-styled Russia women and rode around in the metro each carrying a large potted plant.
“Everything was perfectly legal, but it looked very strange,” Karpinki says. “After an hour, the police started following us. But there was nothing to arrest us for. It was a game on the border of activism.”
The Raduga project, the artists say, is conceived in the same spirit.
“This is the first time we have taken on homophobia,” Karpinski says. “Basically, we do political art. We are interested in places where there is tension in the relations between society and the authorities -- anywhere in the world.”
The artists say they will not be disappointed if the only result of their project is the appearance of more rainbow photographs on the Internet.
“In all our projects, we leave to the audience the freedom of interpretation,” Hendrikx says.
“The only thing we are being criticized for is not explicitly defining our project as intended to defend gay rights,” Karpinski adds. “But we intentionally don’t talk about this openly -- not because we are embarrassed about anything but because leaving something unsaid seems more beautiful to us.”