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The Russian artist confronting his homophobic government

The first exhibition dealing with gay identity since the new morality policies in Russia came into place opened in Moscow last week

According to the artist, Dmitry Fedorov, few people came to the opening of his exhibition because they feared for their safety. They had good reason to. For an hour and a half, four people from a Christian organisation waited in front of the building. But nothing happened because Fedorov, “only invited people to look at paintings,” he didn't read a manifesto. But, despite the protest, if exhibiting Dmitriy's ‘provocative’ paintings is still allowed in Moscow, there's room for hope for creative expression in Russia. This is what ISSMAG, one of the few self-funded galleries in Moscow, and a project running on enthusiasm and optimism, wants to prove through explosive shows such as Party and Play.

A third-year student at the Rodchenko School of Photography, Multimedia and Contemporary Art, Fedorov spoke to Dazed about what inspired his Party and Play show, the complicated relationship between the state and the individual in Russia, and what it's like to live as a gay person in Russia when public statements about queer culture are considered propaganda that must be punished by law.

Tell me about the exhibition. Why did you decide to do it?

My partner, with whom I lived together for the past eight years, and I bought tickets to Amsterdam to ask for political refugee status. But we decided to stay here, and the plane flew without us.  We bought the tickets because of the last Gay Pride in Moscow. You can't even call the event a parade, it's an actual protest. Activists go there every year, and every year they get beaten before they even manage to put their placards up. This happens in the centre of the city, and everyone just keeps their eyes shut while it happens.

While the march was coming to a close this year, I was left alone at the end with my partner and friends when the representatives of patriotic organizations, Bozh'ya Volya (God's Will) and Sorok Sorokov (Fourty of fourty), OMON (special troops) and the police joined us. All of a sudden the members of Bozh'ya Volya started beating us, in the centre of the city, at daytime. OMON and the militia didn't react in any way, they were just watching us. They allowed this to happen. My partner got his collar bone and leg fractured. We've documented this with photographs, we registered all injuries and bruises, gathered all documents and sent them to the police. But the police simply ignored the case.

So, it was a response to all of the ongoing violence against gay people?

Yes, my exhibition was a reaction of resistance against the morality that is now being imposed in the entire country. It touched upon religion and the gay community. It was critical even about the gay community– they have been passive about their rights for 20-25 years. They haven't acted enough. They're not united and everyone is just trying to protect their own skin. But I also wanted to challenge these unending censorships. Very few gallery spaces can now put on more provocative shows that criticise the government, the war in Ukraine, or speak about gay communities and AIDS.

“My exhibition was a reaction of resistance against the morality that is now being imposed in the entire country”– Dmitry Fedorov

Why did you decide to call the show "Party and Play''?

This is gay slang. It means the time to take drugs and love each other has arrived. People didn't come to the exhibition because they were afraid. The few who did told me that they were scared. For an hour and a half, four people from the patriotic organization Bozh'ya Volya were just standing out there, waiting for something provocative to happen. Nothing happened because I only invited people to look at paintings telling the story of the gay community in Russia, I didn't want to read out any manifestos. It's clear that this organisation is funded by the state, there are pictures of Patriarch Kirill gifting an icon to the leader of Bozh'ya Volya.

You dedicated the exhibition to a friend who killed himself?

When they beat us at the Pride, we were already miserable because our close friend committed suicide. His story reflects how the state doesn't look after its people in this country. When he turned 14, his mother took him to the theatre Nord-Ost as a birthday present. It happened to be that day in 2002 when a terrorist attack happened at the venue. They were kept inside for two days. On the second day of being there, our friend said that he wasn't 14 yet and got evacuated with the children. He said goodbye to his mother forever. She got asphyxiated with the smoke of this unverified gas the special troops, OMON, used during the saving operation. That day the state killed more people than the terrorists did. This is why it was forbidden to investigate the case. No one took responsibility for the act. My friend never got over that, he was traumatised because no one wanted to help him. The light within him just turned off. Eventually, he killed himself.

I lost a friend. So I wanted to do an exhibition about how our government doesn't look after us, it just uses people as a resource for its own ambitious goals. It so happened that this exhibition started with the suicide of one friend and then ended with the suicide attempt of another friend. My friend flew to Amsterdam just before my exhibition in order to kill himself. He is now in hospital. He's also gay. It was more and more difficult for him to be here in Russia.

What do you think are other problems the rest of the world should be aware of in Russia?

I think that the most important problem at the moment is the AIDS epidemic.

Find out more about ISSMAG and Dmitry Fedorov's work here