Slava's homoerotic protest photography

Russian exile and gay artist Slava Mogutin on his Lost Boys and bigotry

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Slava Mogutin
iMOCA - In The Name Of Love

This article is part of a series on the gay scene in Russia in response to the country's horrific anti-gay laws. Read more here.

Earlier this month, Russian-born artist Slava Mogutin opened new show In The Name of Love at Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. Once a writer in Moscow, Slava was forced to move to NYC in 1995 because of persecution for his gay activism, and was granted political asylum in the US. Since then, he's switched from writing to visual art. Upon his arrival in NY, he adopted the nickname Slava – Russian for 'glory'. 

New pieces depict lushly coloured, blurry and romantic photos of half-naked men and fully-naked nature. From polaroids of Ancient Greek-looking men to explicit newspaper collages, his art is perhaps more about intimacy and self-exposure than his more explictily reactionary performances in the 1990s, yet in the context of today's Russia, honesty about being gay could not be more political.

DD: How was it to be gay in Russia when you lived there?

Slava Mogutin: I never experienced homophobia in my everyday life, except that once I was bashed in Gorky Park for having long hair and too many earrings to count. When I moved to Moscow as a teenager, I quickly discovered an exciting and vibrant underground gay scene which exploded after homosexuality was decriminalized in 1993. It was a euphoric fleeting moment of freedom, and I still remember that time with a sense of nostalgia. Things unraveled when I started writing on gay issues, came out publicly and outed several prominent public figures, including the notorious Russian right-wing politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who once offered me the job of his press secretary. I was charged with several criminal offenses, from “malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence” and “inflaming social, national, and religious division” to “propaganda of brutal violence, psychic pathology, and sexual perversions.”

Slava Mogutin
Joey & Ladyfag, 2007

DD: Why did you leave?

Slava Mogutin: The last few years before my exile, I lived under continuous harassment and persecution because of my 'inflammatory' writings. Then things got really ugly after I attempted to register the first same-sex marriage in Russia with my then-boyfriend, American artist Robert Filippini. That’s when we saw what real homophobia looks like—with anonymous death threats, late-night visits from the militia, threatening us with deportation or insane asylum, and the official condemnation in the government papers and on state TV. I had no choice but to leave, and I was lucky to escape before they introduced the computer databases at the Russian customs.

Things unraveled when I started writing on gay issues, came out publicly and outed several prominent public figures, including the notorious Russian right-wing politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who once offered me the job of his press secretary

DD: What do you think about the current anti-gay government initiatives? What does it say about today's Russia?

Slava Mogutin: It’s sad to see Russia being in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. And it’s a terrible PR move for Putin, like he didn’t get enough bad publicity after the rigged elections and the shameful show trial of Pussy Riot. It’s sad to see Russia being dragged back into the dark ages of oppression and isolation. One thing's for sure: this increasing State-sponsored hatred, fueled by the new Russian Orthodox chauvinism, will result in mass exodus of talented and successful gay people from Russia – similar to what happened with the Soviet Jews back in the 70s and 80s. It’s sad to see Mother Russia punishing and pushing away her gay children. Or trying to stop gay people from other countries adopting Russian orphans, who deserve better lives in better homes. My heart goes to those directly effected by these new draconian laws.

I lived under continuous harassment and persecution because of my 'inflammatory' writings. I had no choice but to leave

Slava Mogutin
iMOCA - In The Name Of Love

DD: Would you consider doing projects about Russia again considering this?

Slava Mogutin: It’s important to talk and write about what’s happening in Russia. Hopefully this campaign will grow bigger and bigger in the West, forcing the the Russian government to dump these new homophobic legislations. Even though I’ve been living in exile for almost 20 years now, I’m still present in Russia through my books and interviews. I feel like my work has gained a new political meaning and importance there. In today’s Russia, being openly gay equals being a rebel, a dissident; it takes real guts and balls, and I’m happy to witness the emergence of the new gay resistance movement across the country. I believe that the message of love and tolerance will prevail and the new generation of Russians will choose a better future for themselves.

Dazed Digital: What are your current projects and plans?

Slava Mogutin: My work is currently on view in Faceless Part 1 at MuseumsQuartier Wien and I just opened a solo exhibition, In The Name Of Love, at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art – my first major US museum show. Now I’m gearing up for upcoming shows at Galerie Esther Woerdehoff in Paris in November and Galerie Rudolfinum, the Prague Kunsthalle, in January 2014. And I’m also working on a couple of new book projects based on my recent and archival material.

This article is part of a series on the gay scene in Russia in response to the country's horrific anti-gay laws. Read more here.

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