When Lithuanian artist Mindaugas Bonanu last week unveiled his mural in Vilnius depicting Donald Trump kissing Russian President Vladimir Putin, he had no idea that within days it would go viral and be seen all over the world.
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And it didn’t take long for residents of the city, including elderly ones, to post photos of themselves in front of the artwork. Bonanu says that if relations between Russia and the United States deteriorate, Lithuania could find itself in the eye of the storm. But he says he has no fear of Trump supporters.
Bonanu painted the mural on a restaurant wall at the request of co-owner Dominykas Ceckauskas, who worked on it with him. When the two were finished they had themselves photographed kissing under the two leaders.
“Dominykas came to me and said, ‘I have an empty wall. I’ll provide food and drinks, and in return make some artwork,’” Bonanu told Haaretz. “He’s a big fan of the United States, and Trump is the kind of guy he likes. That’s how we got these two charismatic figures kissing.”
It took three days of computer work to get the picture right, he said, but painting it on the wall took only five hours.
Bonanu’s mural was immediately compared to the iconic 1990 mural of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker kissing. That image was painted on the Berlin Wall by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel.
Vrubel’s work in turn was a reproduction of a 1979 photo of the two leaders kissing at a celebration marking the anniversary of East Germany’s founding.
The Berlin Wall mural, painted with the caption “God, help me survive this deadly love,” turned into a symbol of the struggle to reunite Germany and against the Soviet Union.
Bonanu was only a child when the Soviet Union started falling apart and residents of the Baltic states were the first to demand their independence.
“I was born in 1981, so for me that period was my childhood and thus a wonderful period. Only when I grew up did I understand the era I had lived in,” Bonanu said. “For me this is all the past, and the iconic picture on the Berlin Wall is just an amusing political work.”
The Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 worried many in Lithuania, and in 2014, with the fighting in Ukraine, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite called Russia “a terrorist state.” Since the annexation, the Lithuanian government has increased its defense budget by one-third every year, and two weeks ago Reuters reported that the country had opened a new military training camp to teach soldiers how to fight in towns and villages.
“Trump kissing Putin is much more significant for me because it’s happening now,” Bonanu said. “Lithuania and the Baltic states are now on the border between East and West. If the worst happens, it will all happen here. I hope there will only be wet kisses here.”
Over the past week, American artists and journalists who have depicted Trump in ways that didn’t sit well with the candidate or his supporters have been the targets of threats and attacks. Journalist Julia Ioffe, who is Jewish, suffered anti-Semitic abuse and threats on her life after she wrote a profile of Trump’s wife, Melania, for GQ.
Ioffe received calls from people playing Hitler speeches and was sent Photoshopped images of herself in a concentration camp uniform. Ioffe has filed a police complaint.
Nearly three weeks ago, feminist artist Illma Gore, who won worldwide attention in February when she drew a portrait of a naked Trump, said she was punched in the face on the street in Los Angeles by a man who yelled “Trump 2016.” After the attack, she posted pictures of her bruised face on social networks.
But in the Lithuanian capital where Bonanu lives, the response to his artwork has been totally different; even Vilnius’ mayor has praised the painting. He says he hasn’t gotten any bad feedback from Trump supporters.
“Either there are no Trump supporters in Vilnius, or they are hiding somewhere – underground or in psychiatric facilities,” he said. By contrast, graffiti targeting the Russian president isn’t anything new in the city.
Bonanu said he wouldn’t object to the painting being used in the American election campaign. “I have to add that I’ve never been to the United States, and it would be nice if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders could help out a poor artist and put out campaign material featuring my work, so I could raise some money to go there,” he joked.