To anyone who even slightly follows global news, it’s no secret that Russia is extremely homophobic. Those who act or speak out against Putin and his military are frequently harshly punished, imprisoned, or worse. This has led to a culture of fear with many artists and activists no longer willing to put their lives on the line to fight for human rights.
However, last week ISSMAG, one of the few independent galleries in Russia, opened the exhibition “Party and Play,” a series of works that chronicle the struggles endured by Russia’s gay community. The artist, Dmitry Fedorov, explains “My exhibition was a reaction of resistance against the morality that is now being imposed in the entire country.”
The show’s title “Party and Play” refers to slang about the drug and hookup culture of the queer community. Most of the paintings are messy caricature with corresponding text, like a man performing fellatio on himself with the words “Swallow Your Pride” scribbled in red paint or two hands gripping He-man action figures with the text “God Hates Fags?” hovering overhead.
According to an interview with Dazed, Fedorov said few people attended the show’s opening out of fear for their safety. Members of the “patriotic” organization Bozh’ya Volya (which translates to “God’s Will”) were waiting outside, ready to strike at anything provocative or obscene. Luckily, no one was harmed as the gathering was not intended to be a dramatic protest, rather a peaceful viewing of paintings that expressed the community’s hardships.
Fedorov’s inspiration for “Party and Play” came after his long-time partner had his collarbone and leg broken while being openly beaten at a Gay Pride March in Moscow. “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.” The artist has also lost many friends recently to suicide, encouraging him to speak out against the Russian government and their condemnation of homosexuality.
While he largely criticizes the government and the third party extremist groups for their cruelty, Fedorov is also vocal in saying that the gay community has long been fearful and calls for unity in their fight for equality.