Naked Yanukovych Was Just the Start: Ukrainian Artist Knocks Putin by Painting Him in the Nude

Russian President Vladimir Putin has pranced around nearly au naturel performing all sorts of manly activities -- fishing, hunting, and riding a horse through the Siberian wilderness. But until now, he hasn't been fully exposed.

Ukrainian artist Olga Oleynik -- who achieved a measure of global fame for her nude portrait of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych -- sent Foreign Policy a nude painting of the Russian leader. Inexpertly done with a dark, brownish palette, Putin lounges on what looks like a leather couch in a seductive pose, grabbing his left knee only to expose his large genitalia. Overall, it makes for quite an unsightly image. (Click image for the uncensored version.)

"The painting is more a political statement than an aesthetic one," Jonathan Katz, the director of the PhD program at SUNY Buffalo's Department of Art, said in an interview with Foreign Policy.

Oleynik's work is indeed far from aesthetically pleasing, but it has made some waves online (for now, that is the only place her Putin painting can be seen since no galleries appear to want it). The 25-year-old's art caused a stir in late March, when she exhibited a nude portrait of Yanukovych in a cafe in Kiev. Like Putin, Yanukovych is sprawled naked, equipped with a huge gut and manparts rather less impressive than his Russian counterpart's.

Some in the media assumed the painting to be part of the trove of artwork and luxury items found in the Yanukovych's lavish Mezhyhirya residence after he was ousted from power in February. Alas, Yanukovych may have been out of touch with political reality, but he didn't go so far as to commission a highly unflattering nude portrait of himself.

In March, Oleynik told AFP that in 2012 she had painted a nude of Putin as part of the same series but was "still a bit afraid" to show it. Since then, Oleynik told Foreign Policy in a Facebook message, she "gained confidence" and wanted to show the world her work. Part of the reason for her change of heart was the change in power in Ukraine -- she saw that she was not punished for exhibiting the Yanukovych piece, and believed that the new provisional government was not a group of "crazy gangsters." Today, she said, she wants to take a "bold political stand" as an artist.

The contrast between the size of Yanukovych and Putin's private parts is striking -- and yes, you guessed it -- it's supposed to represent the differences in the leaders' power. "It's like -- small men buy big, big cars," she said in an interview with FP, using an age-old cliche, but also referring to Yanukovych's opulent lifestyle. "Inside he is very, very small," she said. "He is just a puppet in Putin's hands."

Although he called the painting's ironic play "sophomoric" and "infantile," Katz, an art historian and curator whose work focuses on the intersection of queer history and art, provided a Freudian analysis of the work. "Phallic power depends on obscuring the penis," Katz said, and on the analysis, the exposure of Putin's penis becomes a way of undermining the strongman.

"In fact it is the ultimate irony that something so small and fragile represents power." Katz says. "When we see Putin's pee pee, the irony of it all hits home."

Another curious part of the painting is Putin's intricate looking watch, his only accessory. Oleynik said that it is meant to symbolize his internal anxiety versus his outside appearance of calmness.

Although both paintings have been rejected by Ukrainian buyers and galleries Oleynik plans to resume her work. She said she has chosen the newly-elected Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko as her next subject. When asked how would she equip him, she said she was not yet sure.

Only time will tell, along with his performance.

Olga Oleynik


Waste and Abuse of Power at the Broadcasting Board of Governors, According to Audit

This story has been updated.

Not even a year after its last scandal, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is accused of wasting taxpayer money -- again. The State Department and BBG's inspector general revealed mismanagement and abuse of power in a new audit released Tuesday.

The BBG, an independent federal agency responsible for international broadcasting, caught flack last July for its expensive aerial program aimed at Cuba that less than 1 percent of Cubans listen to.

The new audit outlines how the BBG contracts department, which is responsible for planning and managing supplies, services, and construction for BBG's affiliates, awarded contracts based on personal connections and used contractors without prior approval, thereby violating the Antideficiency Act. The audit goes on to state that the BBG's use of these contractors resulted in $431,502 that was not certified and $51,140 that was not available when the contractors began working.

The mismanagement did not stop there, though. The audit also details a laundry list of other violations, such as how the BBG failed to make the contract process open and competitive, resulting in $419,020 of funds that were mismanaged through poor planning and a whopping $3.5 million in costs incurred because of unsupported contract pricing. Similarly, the inspector general found that the BBG did not comply with Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements, which led to $24,325 in additional costs from a lack of contract oversight and $475,347 in unauthorized commitments.

The mismanaged amount dwarfs that at the center of the AeroMartí controversy. AeroMartí is broadcast by plane -- to the tune of $24 million over six years -- but the Cuban government routinely jams the plane's broadcasts. To its credit, the BBG wants to ground AeroMartí, but anti-Castro lawmakers block legislative attempts to defund it.

The BBG, through its affiliates such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, provides news and information to more than 206 million people in 61 languages with a variety of radio, television, and online programming. The news outlets under the BBG's purview have evolved in purpose over the years, from countering Nazi and Japanese propaganda during World War II to defusing communist spin. After the Cold War, the outlets took on a more traditional news role. However, a House bill aiming to force the affiliates, most notably Voice of America, to explicitly support the U.S. government and its policies is pending in Congress.

In the audit's wake, the inspector general made a series of recommendations to prevent repeat incidents and is developing new accountability mechanisms for the BBG.

UPDATE: June 19, 2014

The BBG is taking corrective action to resolve the issues raised by the Office of the Inspector General in the audit. The BBG has proposed a new contracting system and has resolved 34 of the 38 recommendations proposed by the inspector general, pending approval of the new contracting system.

The AeroMarti  program is no longer operational after being grounded from the sequestration process.

Photo via Broadcasting Board of Governors