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Slava Mogutin No Love
“No Love”© Slava Mogutin,

The radical Russian artist collaborating with Hood By Air

After modelling in the brand’s AW16 show, Slava Mogutin will be working with Shayne Oliver on a future project

Among models coming down Hood By Air’s AW16 runway at New York Fashion Week in February came a bare-chested man – nude but for a pair of rubber trousers, with tattoos covering his torso, silver rings through his nipples and a puffa jacket of sleeping-bag proportions held above his head. This was radical artist Slava Mogutin. Now based in New York, Mogutin was exiled from his native Russia in 1995 for “inflaming social, national, and religious division” and “propaganda of brutal violence, psychic pathology, and sexual perversions”. His actual crime? Gay activism – coming out publicly, writing on LGBT issues and outing several public figures.

Slava – a nickname he adopted when he came to New York, which is Russian for ‘glory’ – continues to engage with these issues through his art. Highly political, his work contains an unapologetic homoeroticism; from his photographs of semi-naked men to his explicit collages. In a sense, it’s unsurprising that Slava is collaborating with Hood By Air’s founder Shayne Oliver (who similarly brings queer culture to the fore in his work) on a collection based on his artwork. And that’s not the only crossover between the two – Oliver’s AW16 collection was themed around the idea of displacement, something that Mogutin can resonate with thanks to his experience of exile.

Here, Mogutin tells us more about his art, his relationship with Mother Russia, and his collaboration with Oliver.

How would you describe your work?

Slava Mogutin: Personal, political, poetic, queer, rebellious, romantic, and – sometimes – not safe for (corporate) work. I started out as a poet and journalist in Moscow and was also exploring documentary photography and performance art. My political activism was always hand-in-hand with my work. When I was kicked out of Russia and ended up in New York as a political refugee, I turned my exile into a creative experience. It’s fair to say that my immigrant journey shaped my artistic identity.

What kind of ideas do you explore and what issues do you address?

Slava Mogutin: My work is rooted in my dissident and literary upbringing. It deals with the issues that are personally important to me: displacement and identity, disaffection and alienation, queer politics and urban subcultures, religion and censorship, hate and love. I think being an immigrant, an alien and an outsider gives you a unique perspective and angle. And it’s up to us, the immigrants who survived this experience, to remain politically involved and socially conscious in order to make the world and our new home country a better, more tolerant and welcoming place.

What do you think of Russia and how would you describe your relationship with it?

Slava Mogutin: I have a love-hate relationship with Mother Russia. I still have nightmares about being arrested and harassed in Moscow, getting my legs and balls cut off and many other unpleasant associations. Yet I still have nostalgia about the fleeting moment of freedom that I experienced as a teenager witnessing the collapse of the Soviet system, which was perhaps the greatest utopia of the 20th century. Unfortunately, since my exile 20 years ago, Russia has gone backward in terms of basic freedoms and rights, not to mention the infamous anti-gay legislation. What Russia needs, just like the United States, is a political revolution; a new government and new system in place.

What do you think about fashion?

Slava Mogutin: I’m not a stranger to fashion and beauty. Over the past decade, I’ve done plenty of personal and commissioned projects that involve fashion, and I have many friends and collectors working in the industry. In fact, everything I wear was given to me or made for me by my designer friends. I recently tried my hand at designing my own collection in collaboration with Brian Kenny and Print All Over Me.

How did you come into contact with Shayne Oliver?

Slava Mogutin: Shayne and I met some years ago at the time when I was working on my book NYC Go-Go and documenting New York’s club scene. He was and still is one of my favorite DJs and I have many fun memories of his parties I went to. In recent months, we were co-hosting the Gay Vinyl party at the Cock with Susanne Oberbeck of No Bra.

What do you think of what Shayne’s work?

Slava Mogutin: I think Shayne is one of the most talented American designers, and he’s got the best team of people making his vision a reality. He really captured New York City’s explosive energy and rebellious spirit, as well as the futuristic and fetishistic, gender-fluid style of his generation. His shows are always spectacles in which high couture collides with streetwear, drag with ghetto fabulousness, and politics with kink. Where else can you see tattooed homo thugs walking the runway in bright-red high heels and pretty androgynous boys wearing wigs and do-rags made of lacy panties?

“(Shayne Oliver’s) shows are always spectacles... Where else can you see tattooed homo thugs walking the runway in bright-red high heels and pretty androgynous boys wearing wigs and do-rags made of lacy panties?” – Slava Mogutin

Would you say you’re like-minded? If so, how?

Slava Mogutin: I do find Shayne’s style and energy enormously appealing, and I appreciate the theme and premise of his latest Pilgrims collection. At a time of growing chauvinism, xenophobia and heated immigration debates at the heart of the US election campaign, it’s important to remember that America is a country built by pilgrims and immigrants. We’re all pilgrims and refugees in our genetic make-up and we’re all citizens of the world, no matter where we were born or came from. It’s a romantic ideal that I subscribe to and that’s why I was happy and honoured to take a part in Shayne’s Pilgrims show. 

Do you have plans to collaborate again? 

Slava Mogutin: Yes, we’re talking about doing some special Slava and HBA collaboration based on my artwork.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Slava Mogutin: I’m putting together several book projects, including a new collection of poetry and a book of photography based on over a decade of my magazine work. Also in the works are a couple of video and recording projects with Edmund White and Susanne Oberbeck of No Bra, plus a show about censorship that I’m curating with Mr Bruce LaBruce.