My Existence = My Resistance

Artist Statement

 

That’s Me In the Corner (Everybody Hurts), 2016

 

For over two decades, I’ve been documenting queer lives in my native Russia and around the world. In my work, I tell real stories of real people through the prism of my queer immigrant experience. Minorities, social outcasts, people on the fringes of society, marginalized lives and souls who don’t have objective representation in contemporary culture find their place in my writings and art.

Having been raised under oppressive Communist ideology, where homosexuality was a criminal offense punishable with up to five years in prison, I was one of the first openly gay journalists who covered the emerging queer culture and underground community in a favorable way. I moved to Moscow as a teenager to escape my homophobic family. At that time, I was eager to explore forbidden literature, cinema, and art, and discovered Rimbaud, Genet, Bataille, Pasolini, Visconti, Fassbinder, Derek Jarman, and David Wojnarowicz at a very young age. Their work gave me confidence in my own creative pursuits. It made me proud of who I was and the people I was representing. As an editor at the first gay-friendly publishing house in Russia, Glagol (‘Verb’), I was responsible for publishing several groundbreaking books previously banned in the Soviet Union, such as, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. I also translated into Russian selected writings of Allen Ginsberg and Dennis Cooper, both of whom I was fortunate to meet and work with.

After my attempt to register the first same-sex marriage in Russia before it was legal anywhere else, I was forced to leave my country and seek political asylum in the US. I became the first Russian gay refugee granted asylum on the grounds of homophobic persecution. After my move to New York, I immersed myself in the downtown queer scene and interviewed many of my heroes like Allen Ginsberg, Quentin Crisp, Larry Clark, Gus Van Sant, Bruce LaBruce, and Edmund White. After being granted asylum, I was able to go back to Russia to visit my family and friends, while documenting the political and economic transformations that my country went through in the early 2000s. Those pictures later became my first New York solo show and photography monograph, Lost Boys. In this series I raise questions about displacement and identity, various underground subcultures and how they relate to each other, the clash between individual desires and social norms, order and chaos, attachment and disaffection, religion and nihilism, love and hate, and what it means to be a young man in the modern world.

Over the years, my creative practice has evolved beyond text, photography and performance to film and multimedia installation. Informed by my dissident and refugee background, my work has as much to do with a personal point of view as with social commentary and political activism. For me, the personal is political and the political is personal. At a time when our fundamental constitutional rights are under attack, I believe that queer imagery can serve as the most effective weapon against hypocrisy, bigotry, and censorship. When they censor my work either on social media or in real life, my response is always—double up on the queer, double up on the fight and what they don’t want to hear or see. I want to shine light on the darkest corners of human nature and sexuality as a way to understand and peacefully coexist with each other, because being different is a blessing, not a curse.