The work of one of Azerbaijan's leading artists, at the centre of an embarrassing dispute at the prestigious Venice Art Biennale, has been removed from the festival after the country's President apparently intervened to say the works were distasteful.
Two of Aidan Salakhova's sculptures have been removed from the Azerbaijani Pavilion at the glamorous international art event in a move that has been criticised in the art world.
Sources in Venice said the decision to ban the works was taken by Azerbaijan's authoritarian President, Ilham Aliyev.
The two works in question are marble sculptures. One is a representation of the Black Stone of Mecca, an Islamic religious relic, in a vagina-shaped frame, while the other depicts a woman who is fully cloaked in a black veil.
Earlier, officials and curators at the pavilion had suggested that the sculptures were covered up because they had been damaged in transit. But yesterday the curator of the Azerbaijani Pavilion, Beral Madra, admitted the truth. "I was informed that the Ministry of Culture has found Salakhova's two sculptures [were] controversial to the prestige of the country," she said.
Ms Salakhova declined to comment yesterday, but Ms Madra blasted the government in Baku for its decision. "In my 25 years of curating... I have never experienced this kind of conflict," she said.