Two seemingly pro-Russian art initiatives have popped up in New York City in recent weeks, the BuzzFeed news and entertainment website reported.
The photo exhibition and pop-up shop raised speculation that the Russian government may be involved, but the founders insist on their independence.
The organizers of the “Material Evidence” photo exhibition promise to show “the full truth about the countries involved in civil conflicts,” namely Ukraine and Syria.
The exhibition is curated by Benjamin Hiller, a German photojournalist who organized the initiative with nine other photographers of different nationalities, BuzzFeed reported.
The show “consists of a collection of enormous photographic prints and physical objects from the two titular countries’ recent civil conflicts,” Gawker entertainment news website reported.
In addition to photos from the Syrian Ministry of Defence, the show will feature photos accusing pro-Maidan Ukranian protestors of being “extreme right-winged” militants.
Hiller had denied links with Russia or any other government earlier this month, telling BuzzFeed News they were largely relying on crowdfunding.
“Nobody would ask if an Pro-Maidan exhibition or images showing the Free Syrian Army (my work on that was shown at several galleries in Germany and will be shown again at an Gallery in November in South-Germany) is funded, lets say, by Saudi Arabia, the U.S. or NATO states,” Hiller told BuzzFeed News.
“The founding [sic] is coming in continuously - like here in NY we got already further donations and the main donations for getting the stuff to NY where given us in Berlin,” he said.
“Mostly people approach us directly after visiting the exhibition, ask us how they can support us with money, if they can spread the word etc. Of course we are always running low on funds, that is why there was a lot of chaos and problems with payments in time for NY, as we had first to raise the money for it all,” Hiller explained.
However, a Russia Today story quoted in an article on the EuroMaidan Press site linked the exhibition’s edition in Moscow to Zhurnalistskaya Pravda (“Journalistic Truth”), a Russian paper reportedly connected to ultra-nationalist figure Vladislav Shurigin.
While Hiller acknowledged his show’s ties to Journalistic Truth, he maintained there were obsolete.
“The newspaper helped in Moscow to organize the first venue,” he said on Friday.
“After that - due to my ‘intervention’ - we split with this newspaper, as I want to stay independent. They have no connection to us at all, do not fund or sponsor us,” he was quoted as saying.
The EuroMaidan article reported that the website’s exhibition was registered under Svetlana Zaharova, an MP in Russia’s ruling party.
“If you read the piece carefully - you can figure out that she is not the owner of the website (that is a false claim),” Hiller said in an email.
“The screenshot clearly shows her name is used for the Admin (!). That is a huge difference. We had a freelance Web-designer building for us the page. Why he used her name for the Admin name we have no clue,” he said.
“As Americanized as you can be”
As for the pop-up store selling Putin memorabilia, the owner said that 80 percent of his startup money came from “personal savings.”
Julius Kacinskis, an American born in Lithuania, opened the store on Tuesday.
“I went to college, did the whole nine yards,” Kacinskis told BuzzFeed News.
“I’m as Americanized as you can be.”
He is selling almost 100 shirts a day that portray the Russian leader as a “peacemaker.”
“He [Putin] is not the big Russian bear that people portray him as, [sic]” he said.
“I’m not really into the political side of it, I’m more into the education side of it,” Kacinskis said.
“People come in and ask, ‘why this, why that.’ I leave it very open to them to make their own decisions.”