Sculpture of Putin sitting naked on golden toilet goes to auction

A papier-mâché effigy of the Russian and Belarusian leaders Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko, made famous at anti-Russian demonstrations in Prague over the past year and a half, has now been put to auction. Bidding starts at 10,000 euros.

The gaudy artwork most recently drew the attention of European leaders at an informal summit held at Prague Castle in September. But it has been making the rounds at public events and “happenings” around Prague since April 2021, when it had its premiere outside the Russian embassy, with the fence also being decorated with golden toilet brushes.

Toilet brushes have become a symbol of resistance against Putin’s regime ever since Alexei Navalny’s opposition movement released a documentary film in early 2021 showing footage of a giant palace by the Black Sea, which the filmmakers say was constructed by Putin using slush funds, where the toilet brushes alone reportedly cost 15,000 euros. This then became the inspiration for the papier-mâché sculpture "Naked Killer", depicting Putin sitting naked on a golden toilet.

Otakar van Gemund | Photo: Archives of Otakar van Gemund

Otakar van Gemund from the Czech activist group Kaputin, who came up with the idea for the work, explained his thinking and the symbolism behind the effigy at a press conference last week.

“I wanted to portray Putin naked in combination with the golden toilet as a symbol of the perversity of the Russian regime. But it’s also an allusion to the emperor's new clothes, to show that we do not need to be afraid of Putin, that he pretends to be something which he isn’t – the all-powerful leader of a nation – but in reality he is just a Mafia boss and a pretender.”

In his first incarnation, the Russian leader had a pair of red boxer shorts pulled down around his ankles (red underpants having also been a symbol of protest in Czechia since 2015, specifically against President Miloš Zeman), as well as a bottle of Novichok cleaning product and a golden roll of toilet paper in his hand. The spoof statue has evolved many times since then. After the violent suppression of anti-government demonstrations in Belarus in 2020 -2021, a disproportionately smaller mannequin of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko was added, also naked, sitting on Putin's lap, and the work was renamed "Naked Killers".

Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the roll of toilet paper was replaced by a bloodied miniature washing machine, as a symbol of the looting by Russian soldiers. After the discovery of mass graves in Bucha, a figurine of a civilian victim’s body in a plastic bag was added at the foot of the pedestal. Finally, a large gold letter "Z" suspended from a gold chain was hung around the dummy Putin’s chest.

Now that the figurine has fulfilled its purpose in demonstrations in public spaces, it can go into a private collection as a memento. Van Gemund says that it may not be for everyone, but there will definitely be a lot of interest.

“It’s a really ugly thing – my wife hates it. It’s not something that everyone would want in their home, and I understand that. But there will definitely be some museums that will be interested in it, for example the National Museum, because they have exhibitions which aim to capture the zeitgeist of a particular historical era.”

The artwork went to online auction on Wednesday and bidding will close on 20 December, just in time for Christmas. Bidding started at 10,000 euros. The proceeds will be used to purchase a combat drone for the Ukrainian military.

Author: Anna Fodor
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