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Russian censors target Olympic-themed art ahead of Sochi 2014

Courtesy Vasiliy Slonov

When Vasily Slonov's "Welcome Sochi! 2014" exhibition was closed by Russian authorities, well-known gallery curator Marat Guelman moved the pictures to the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art. He was subsequently fired.

Editor's note: This story includes a correction.

One of Russia's most prominent modern art figures has been fired after refusing to allow an exhibit examining the darker side of the Sochi Olympics to be axed by censors.

Marat Guelman, a gallery curator, was dismissed as director of the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art after backing the controversial "Welcome! Sochi 2014" exhibit by Vasily Slonov. It included images of the Olympic rings in barbed wire and as various colored nooses. 

When the the exhibit was closed by Russian authorities last week during a cultural festival organized by Guelman, the well-known gallery curator moved the pictures to the museum.

Guelman posted on his Twitter page Wednesday that he had been fired by Igor Gladnev, the minister of culture for the Perm region.

"Gladnev just called me and confirmed the fact of my dismissal. The Ministry of Culture, it seems, has confused its role with that of the FSB [the former KGB]," Guelman wrote.

Russian Internet portal Lifenews also reported that authorities had raided Guelman’s former offices at the museum (link in Russian). It added that officials had launched a legal case into Slonov's works, alleging he had used Sochi 2014 symbols without permission.

"I had hoped that censorship was impossible and illegal," Guelman told NBC News. "The new trend of Russian politics is to divide everyone into groups of 'us' and 'them,' and the small liberal islands are getting even smaller."

The Ministry of Culture did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Guelman's dismissal.

However, the "Welcome! Sochi 2014" works of Slonov remained on display at the Perm Museum of Contemporary Art on Thursday.

Sochi has become increasingly in the limelight ahead of next February's Winter Olympics with stories emerging about corruption and exploitation of migrant workers in the region. Sochi 2014 has become the most expensive of all Olympic Games to date at an estimated cost of $50 billion

Set in the Russian Urals, Perm was home to one of the most famous labor camps for political prisoners under Joseph Stalin - the gulag known as Perm 36.

However, the city had been trying to re-brand itself in recent years and has become a beacon of light for culture in addition to Moscow and St. Petersburg.