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Pop quiz: What’s the best way to celebrate the 62nd birthday of a “democratic” leader with dictator-like tendencies?
A) Hold a pro-democracy protest
B) Start a revolution
C) Put on an art show
If you answered “C,” you may be a member of a group of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most creative supporters. Their imaginative exhibit The 12 Labors of Putin opened in Moscow on Tuesday night, according to the AFP. It features a dozen paintings that unironically depict the balding leader as a modern-day Hercules.
You may wonder what the baby-faced Putin has in common with the bearded, lion-skin-wearing son of Zeus. For starters, both carry a big stick — Hercules for clubbing wild animals, Putin for silencing opposition. That similarity isn’t noted in the exhibit, though.
Instead, one painting compares the Russian tyrant’s illegal takeover of the impoverished Crimea to the Greek hero’s capture of the Cretan Bull, a powerful creature that legend has it terrorized the Greek population. In the artwork, Putin wears an uncharacteristically skimpy toga to show off his uncharacteristically muscular chest. He reigns in the legendary animal, having seemingly just ridden it across the sea to rejoin the two nations — a fairy-tale version of the much bloodier, real-life event.
Another painting compares Putin’s anti-corruption campaign to Hercules’s cleaning of the Augean Stables — a feat wherein the Greek hero poop-scooped after 3,000 oxen. The image trades the king’s cows for three frightened stallions, which Putin fends off while wearing bronze armor and gladiator sandals. Money swirls in the wind around him.
In what might be my favorite image, Putin (again wearing the toga) holds an indeterminate object in his hands while looking out at the viewer with the libidinous smirk of a teenage boy who’s just swiped someone’s panties. The object, it turns out, represents a belt belonging to a treacherous Amazonian queen that King Eurystheus tasked Hercules with retrieving for his daughter. Here, the unlucky lady is the United States, who unsuccessfully tried to foil plans for the South Stream gas pipeline. Yep — Putin saved the day by stealing Lady Liberty’s belt.
Enjoy the rest of the paintings.