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Russian Queer Revolution installation (2020)
Viktoria Guyvik, from the Russian Queer Revolution installation (2020)Courtesy of the artist

This installation celebrates the faces of the Russian queer underground

A new artwork curated by Russian Queer Revolution seeks to show the beauty and joy in the Russian queer experience

As the queer community in Russia continue to be persecuted and denied any representation in the mainstream media under the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” law, and a draft bill proposes a series of regressive and discriminatory new legislation, it’s never been more crucial to amplify the voices of those tyrannised by this institutional aggression. 

A new installation curated by Russian Queer Revolution and hosted in the window of The Outsider’s Gallery (located at Lyall Hakaraia’s legendary nightspot Vogue Fabrics in Dalston) will celebrate Russia’s “burgeoning queer creative underground” through a series of elf-portraits, collaborative works, fragments from editorials, and various creative projects.

“Being part of Russia’s LGBTQI+ community often means facing harassment, violence, discrimination, and erasure,” Russian Queer Revolution explains. But, as oppressive as the political climate in Russia may be, this artwork is a celebration of Russia’s new generation of queer creatives, as opposed to a document of their victimisation. “They are keen to prove that the Russian queer experience is not just pain – but also a great deal of beauty, joy, pleasure, pride, creativity and talent.”

“For me, as a Russian queer person and an immigrant, this project is significant for many reasons,” curator and Russian Queer Revolution founder Anastasiia Fedorova tells Dazed. “It is a search for a Russian queer family I never had. It is proof of our defiant existence. It is a hand extended to all the lost and exiled immigrant queers, and a celebration of all the different ways of finding home. It is about remembering how connected LGBTQI+ community is worldwide, and how diversity and inclusion makes us infinitely stronger. It is about remembering that no one is free and equal until we all are free and equal in every country of the world.”

We talked to Anastasiia Fedorova about Russia’s queer underground scene and attempting to fill gaps in representation.

Could you tell us a bit more about the Russian Queer Revolution?

Anastasiia Fedorova: Russian Queer Revolution is a platform dedicated to celebrating Russia’s LGBTQI+ creatives. I started the project in January 2020, as an Instagram account. I want to create a celebratory online space where Russian LGBTQI+ artists, musicians, photographers, designers, filmmakers, illustrators, drag queens and kings could share their work – and where the rest of the world could see it. 

I am originally from Russia and I am queer. I have been working in London as a curator and writer for about seven years. In the last couple of years the new wave of Russian queer culture has been on the rise but still largely unrepresented in the west, and I wanted to do something about it. But also, as a Russian queer person, I wanted to understand my own identity better.

If we look at the global queer culture, we can find a few Russian things: ‘All The Things She Said’ by t.A.T.u or pioneering radical work by artist Slava Mogutin. But I really wanted to know what Russian queer culture here and now looks like, and what it means for my lesbian, gay, non-binary, and trans peers in Russia. I wanted to show them that they’re appreciated, celebrated, and loved by the global LGBTQI+ community – which hopefully can help them to deal with governmental and social hostility in Russia. 

In the future, I would love to curate more exhibitions and hopefully also raise funds for LGBTQI+ causes and individual artists in Russia.

Why is it more crucial than ever to create platforms for queer Russian voices at this moment in history? 

Anastasiia Fedorova: I think we’re living in times of militant conservatism in many countries, so it’s very important to raise our voices as LGBTQI+ people. In Russia, we have anti-trans legislative initiatives and persistent governmental homophobia. But it’s important to also acknowledge the struggle against the conservative powers in Poland, Hungary, UK, US, and so many other countries. We’re all in this together – and, to be honest, I want to see a project like this from every country around the world!  

How would you describe the queer underground scene in Russia? 

Anastasiia Fedorova: I’m not the best person for the task because I haven’t lived there for quite a while, I can only give my observations. I think the scene is definitely underground, because it’s not recognised by the mainstream, but it’s expansive and growing. I can definitely say that Ozine, an independent magazine about Russian queer culture founded in 2018, has definitely been very influential in consolidating people and giving them a platform. Their work is incredibly inspiring. There are lots of great online initiatives, like blogs, Telegram and YouTube channels, lots of educational projects and collaboration, there are lots of incredible activists, especially fighting for trans rights. Pre-pandemic the rave scene was exciting too – with parties like Popoff Kitchen and Grahn’ – hopefully it resumes soon. But overall I can definitely say the new queer wave in Russia has only just begun.     

In what ways is VFD an ideal space to show this exhibition? 

Anastasiia Fedorova: I greatly admire the work VFD are doing as an independent art and community space – I feel like they support and celebrate so many different and diverse LGBTQI+ identities through projects like Transmissions. I feel really grateful and honoured to curate this exhibition for a living and breathing LGBTQI+ community space, and to connect London queers with queers in Russia.

There’s a great deal of joy and celebration in the images! How did you want to portray Russian queer experience in this exhibition? Were there any guiding principles or intentions when you curated the show? 

Anastasiia Fedorova: Most of all, I wanted to show people the way they wanted to appear themselves. I wanted to celebrate self-determination and the ability to create and celebrate your own identity despite the external factors, like hate crimes, familial and governmental homophobia. I was inspired by Russian LGBTQI+ young people who are very open about who they are – and by their beauty, community spirit, talent and style. I also definitely wanted to represent diverse gender and sexual identities. 

I have compiled around 70 portraits which I sourced from Russian LGBTQI+ community: self-portraits, selfies, fragments of editorials, photographic and artistic works. I don’t want to claim that this is the Russian queer community as it is – it is just a mere fraction, a start of a hopefully sizeable visual archive. The project is not documentary – it’s an artistic representation of what being Russian and queer looks like in 2020. 

The installation for the photographic display was designed by artist Joshua Fay. We wanted to create something playful and celebratory. The draped fabrics are in the colour of a Russian flag – blue, red and white – but they’re silky, shimmering and velvet, and of different shades which don;t necessarily replicate the flag. I wanted to use red because it’s a special colour in our culture and it stands for beauty.  

In what ways can we all do more to support Russia's LGBTQI+ youth?

Anastasiia Fedorova: If you’d like to support directly, I have created a fundraiser for Russian trans community which will be going while the display is up – the funds will be passed to T-action, a trans-led initiative in Russia running support groups and doing crucial work for trans equality, they’re in desperate need of funds now because of the pandemic. You should also follow Ozine and support them through their Patreon. But I think, overall, what we all should do is to be more curious and more empathetic of different LGBTQI+ experiences in different countries – to learn about our community beyond where we are from. 

Donate to the Russian trans community fund hereThe Russian Queer Revolution installation will be showing at The Outsiders Gallery at VFD from 1 – 26 September 2020