No hard feelings: Clergy visit prompts Russian fine arts school to hide statues’ naughty parts

A fine arts school in Russia’s Siberia has been criticized online after deciding to hastily cover up its nude antique sculptures – all because they thought it might upset visiting Orthodox Christian priests.

The unusual take on artistic nudity occurred in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk on Thursday. Photos and a video from the State University of Architecture, Design and Fine Arts captured antique sculptures in the lobby, draped from head to toe with large baggy cloths. The act of impromptu censorship was done ahead of a visit by Russian Orthodox priests, who were arriving for a panel discussion on making local churches wheelchair-accessible.

“We were told that the sculptures were covered to avoid hurting their feelings,” one of the attendees told local media.

The fact that the statues were ‘dressed-up’ ahead of the clergymen’s visit was later all but confirmed by the university’s spokesperson as their own initiative. Once the priests left, the cloths were removed, and the statues are now back to their original ‘offensive’ form.

The incident triggered a wave of almighty facepalms online, with commentators ridiculing university staff for the uncalled-for act of self-censorship. Some took particular offence at the fact that it happened in Novosibirsk, which is considered to be Siberia’s capital of science.

Local outlet, which broke the bizarre news of statue-dressing, even mocked the move by photoshopping similar golden pieces of cloth around landmark sculptures to see how they might look.

Notably, the incident was met with mixed reaction from the Church. One of the priests who reportedly attended the event said that covering the statues’ naughty parts was the right call. “It’s one thing when the students are using these sculptures as drawing models because it’s a part of their curriculum. And it’s a completely different issue when outsiders arrive, who are by most part members of the clergy, as well as parishioners. There shouldn’t be something that makes a man feel unsettled,” Aleksandr Matruk told the Moscow-based radio station Govorit Moskva, causing even more uproar online.

However, Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoyda responded to the incident with a proverbial “send a fool to the market and a fool he will return again” – squarely laying all blame on the university staff.

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