Yevgeniy Fiks, “Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s”

Exhibit Opening. Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s–1980s
Wednesday, September 4, 2019, 6:00 pm
Harriman Institute Atrium (12th floor, 420 W 118th St., New York), Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Please join the Harriman Institute for the opening reception of the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s -1980s featuring a series of works photographed in 2008 by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

The exhibit runs September 3–October 18, 2019. Exhibit hours are Monday–Friday, 9:30 am–5:00 pm, excluding university holidays.

The exhibit documents gay cruising sites in Soviet Moscow, from the early 1920s to the USSR’s dissolution in the early 1990s. Photographed in 2008 in a simple but haunting documentary style, these sites of the bygone queer underground present a hidden and forgotten Moscow, with a particular focus on revolutionary communist and Soviet state sites appropriated by queer Muscovites.

This opening reception will feature a performative reading by actor Chris Dunlop of the 1934 letter to Joseph Stalin by the British Communist and Moscow resident Harry Whyte, in which he attempts to defend homosexuality from a Marxist-Leninist perspective in the face of the campaign of mass arrests that swept Moscow and Leningrad gay circles from 1933 to 1934. After reading the letter, Stalin wrote “idiot and degenerate” in the margins. The letter, which remained unanswered, was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and translated into English by Thomas Campbell for publication in Fiks’s Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. He has produced many projects on the subject of the post-Soviet dialogue in the west. His work has been shown internationally and has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).

Text and images courtesy of the Harriman Institute

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I Have No Idea What I’m Talking About, But I’m Famous, So It Doesn’t Matter

vadim f. lurie-10 august-fuck offOne of the many young people in Russia who, according to Anne Applebaum, are leading the latest tiny, Moscow-centered pro-democracy movement there. The slogan on his t-shirt reads, “Fuck off.” Photo by Vadim F. Lurie, who captured this image during the “authorized” fair elections march in Moscow on August 10, 2019.

What was I just saying about leaky arguments on behalf of Russia’s courageous but incredibly tiny fair elections movement?

I always had famous Anne Applebaum pegged as a real Russophobe, not a fake one like me, someone who has constantly run afoul of the liberal and leftist Russia discourse police and been crossed off their Christmas card lists many times over. But it turns out Applebaum is such a “Russophile” she is ready to turn reality on its head by comparing the truly grassroots, popular, massive well-organized pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the minuscule ragtag non-movement in Russia.

In Russia, where propaganda also attacks the West and derides democracy as chaotic and anarchic, protesters have focused very directly on the most fundamental of democratic institutions: they are demanding the right, simply, to vote for independent candidates in local elections. Just as in Hong Kong, Russian protests are being led by younger people [sic], none of whom can remember any other leader except Vladimir Putin: “I am 20 years old, and in my entire life there has not been a single day of freedom,” one of them told reporters, according to Meduza, an independent website that covers Russia. They, too, are well organized, using up-to-the-minute apps to keep in touch with one other, deploying a phalanx of lawyers and a carefully planned social media campaign [sic]. Like the young Hong Kongers, young Russians aren’t just dedicated; they are organized, thoughtful and well prepared [sic].

There are some obvious explanations for this East-West paradox. Clearly, the inhabitants of stable democracies find it hard to appreciate what they have: “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” isn’t just a song lyric; it’s an expression of something fundamental about the human brain. Like wealth or health, political freedom may simply be something that people don’t value if they’ve always had it [sic].

But it may also be that the young protesters of Russia and China are simply ahead of us. We’ve gotten used to the idea that political influence flows from West to East, but are we so sure that is still true? A generation of Eastern dissidents has thought harder than we [sic] have about how to self-organize, about how to operate in a world run by secretive, kleptocratic elites who go out of their way to create distraction and apathy. Remember that they, too, are fighting regimes that seem in hock to moneyed interests and wrestling to cope with the pace of technological change. It may be that we in the West simply haven’t thought about what tactics ordinary people need [sic] to deploy to compete in a world where money is offshore, power is invisible and apathy is widespread. It may be that we need to learn from people who have.
—Anne Applebaum, “Hong Kong and Russia Protesters Fight for Democracy. The West Should Listen and Learn,” Washington Post, 16 August 2019

For the sake of rapping the sock puppet known as “the west” on the knuckles, Applebaum conveniently forgets to compare the numbers of people involved in demos and other protest actions in a city of seven million people, on one hand, and the world’s largest country, on the other.

She claims “the west,” where, she alleges, everyone has suddenly given up on democracy, can learn something from “the east.” How is that someone who has written so eloquently about the Soviet Gulag has no clue that the people spearheading the Russian non-movement, people from Moscow and Petersburg, overidentify with “the west” and regard their cities, wrongly or rightly, as European cities, not “eastern” cities?

Wrongly or rightly, and unlike Applebaum, they overidentify so strong with the nonexistent west that they almost never show any sign they have anything to learn from “the east.” Maybe I have the wrong friends and follow the wrong people and groups on Russian social media, but I have not seen anyone talking about the lessons Russian protesters can learn from people in Hong Kong or, say, Puerto Rico. Forgive me if I don’t spell out, for the thousandth time, the darker side of the disdain many members of the Russian liberal and left intelligentsia have for “non-westerners,” especially “non-westerners” who make them look bad by fighting more fiercely and in much greater numbers for their freedom.

It is only possible to learn a real lesson when our teacher has all her facts straight. Unfortunately, when it comes to Russia and its “western” discourse police officers, including Applebaum, complexity, subtlety, and a basic grasp of facts go straight out the window. For reasons I have never been able to fathom, normally decent editors fall asleep at the wheel when their reporters and op-ed contributors write about Russia, especially when they have the cachet of someone like Applebaum.

It seemingly never occurs to anyone in “the west” or “the east” (i.e., Russia) that this bizarre mixture of total indifference, willful ignorance masked as insider knowledge, and desperate cheerleading does nothing for the minority of people in Russia who have the courage to confront their country’s criminal regime. // TRR

Thanks to Boycott Russia Today for the heads-up and Vadim F. Lurie for the fabulous photograph.

Stanislava Novgorodtseva: Portraits of Angry Muscovites

“The Regime Has No Feedback from the Populace”: What Are People Saying Who Support the Candidates Barred from the Moscow City Duma Elections?
Photographer Stanislava Novgorodtseva took photos of angry Muscovites, trying to find out what it was they wanted
July 27, 2019

3a28b76117eb6539c85008b98b8c8159Viktor, 21, student and programmer. “Ideally, I would like to see all the candidates who were illegally barred put on the ballot and the Moscow City Duma dissolved, respectively. That would make sense to all of us.”

mikhailMikhail, 23, web developer. “I came here to support Ilya Yashin, a candidate in Borough No. 45, which includes the Krasnoselsky and Meshchansky Districts. He is currently detained by the police. My big hope is that at least one election in this country is legitimate.”

vadimVadim, 61, retired doctor. “I wanted to hear the barred candidates speak and support them, and defend our rights, which have been violated. A criminal offense has been committed and we must get to the bottom of it.”

ilyaIlya, 21, artist. “First of all, I would like to stop the lawlessness directed at the populace, the continuing poverty, arrests, and prison sentences. We need to see justice done and hold fair elections so the so-called government stops pushing us around. Because a country is not a bunch of people but a nation.”

klaraKlara, 75, retired engineer and metallurgist. “We came specially to defend our candidate, Yulia Galyamina. She is a decent person, she lectures at two universities. What were the police’s grounds for searching her home? A huge number of people have supported her, but she has been barred from running.”

marinaMarina, 56, psychology lecturer. “We basically cannot change anything at the moment. We are merely showing them we exist because it is impossible to change anything now. But everything will change after a while. When they see we are here, they take us into account.”

Yulia, 42, chief accountant. “I am here to get the candidates who met the legal requirements onto the ballot. We want to see an end to the manipulations, violations, and planting of drugs on people. We just want the laws to be obeyed. I want to be able to go to court and defend my rights.”

Andrei, 43, technical consultant. “It is the only thing left to us: we cannot do anything else. If we stay at home and ‘strike,’ we could die and no one would care. People have to take to the streets around the world. Otherwise, if you are not seen you are not heard. The prosecutor’s offices, courts, and police do not do their jobs. All the state agencies send formal replies or do not respond at all when you complain to them.”

Vera, 56, oil geologist. “We have a problem with infill construction, but our candidate, Elena Rusakova, has been barred from running. We are absolutely certain the signatures [on the petitions supporting Rusakov’s candidacy], are genuine: we signed them ourselves and helped her collect them. We have come to voice our protest.”

Natalya, 62, manager. “We lived in a nice green neighborhood. I was apolitical, but suddenly we were surrounded by construction sites, fences, sidewalks, and paving stones. They have been expropriating green spaces and cutting down trees. Candidates willing to fight against this are barred from holding political office. My mom is 94 years old. She survived the Siege of Leningrad. She does not leave the house anymore, but she told me I definitely had to come to this rally. Otherwise, she said, my children would live in a police state.”

Alexander, 44, activist: “I filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights because my building has slated for [Moscow Mayor Sobyanin’s massive residential building] renovation. That is one of the reasons I came. But Sobyanin and his stooges in the Moscow City Duma are bad guys not only because of the renovation program. They have been robbing and disfiguring the city. We came out to show the authorities what we think, although we have been accused of wanting violent regime change. This is not true.”

Anatoly, 48, programmer: “I came to the rally as part of a social experiment. I am not much interested in showdowns over who gets on the city council. I have more grudges against the current regime than everyone else here combined, but people are fighting for cosmetic changes. Even if [independent] candidates get on the ballot, I don’t believe improvements will follow. The regime has no feedback from the populace, but I don’t think protest rallies can solve the problem.”

Translated by the Russian Reader

Darya Apahonchich: Relaxation for Men

darja-1Darya Apahonchich is one of the artists exhibited at the 2019 Festival of Political Photography at the Finnish Museum of Photography. Photo by Liisa Takala. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for Men
Darya Apahonchich wanted to make prostitution visible so she photographed men
Jussi Lehmusvesi
Helsingin Sanomat
March 13, 2019

A good three years ago, Petersburg teacher Darya Apahonchich was walking to work when she noticed letters painted on the sidewalk.

ОТДЫХ

Freely translated, the word means “relaxation, rest.” Apahonchich knew it was one of the most common phrases in Russia for advertising prostitution.

Apahonchich was intrigued. On previous walks to work, she had noticed that ads for brothels had spread everywhere, including walls, light poles, and transformer boxes, and now they seemed to have flooded the streets, too. There was also something irritating about the word отдых.

Relaxation.

Or the slightly longer version:

Relaxation for men.

Apahonchich had an idea. She was also a professional artist and had worked in several groups that produced political art. She asked male acquaintances to think about how they really relaxed. Then she took the men to the sex ads and asked them to assume the poses they had chosen for relaxing.

The photographs were produced in the middle of sidewalks as passersby watched.

“I wasn’t trying to take smooth, finished art photos but snapshots,” she said. “People’s reactions were supportive or, more often, indifferent. Petersburg is a big city, after all, and people are not easily surprised.”

After the photoshoot, she posted the photos on social media and waited for a reaction.

Things kicked off after a while.

Apahonchich’s photos attracted attention on social media. The photographer was asked for interviews by more traditional media.

She was more delighted by offers from complete strangers, men who wanted to be involved in the project.

“They said they wanted to relax and asked whether they could help me,” Apahonich says.

Despite what you might imagine, there was nothing suggestive about the men’s requests. They genuinely wanted to be involved in doing something good.

The photographer accepted the offers and new photos were produced.

“It started out just as a fun thing but gradually turned into something more serious,” she says.

darja-2Two young men relaxing. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

The success of Apahonchich’s photos could be explained by their skewed perspective. We have seen plenty of pictures of people victimized by prostitution at exhibitions but the gaze in her photos is focused on men.

This also has its own meaning for her.

“When people talk about prostitution, they usually talk about women, but I hope to make something invisible visible in the images I produce,” Apahonchich says.

It is a reasonable aspiration in the sense that men are active in the sex trade as middlemen, customers and, sometimes, vendors, too.

“Of course, men see my pictures differently. Some see them only as humorous. In the best case, I make the men looking at the photos reflect on their own position on the matter.”

The artist also has a personal reason for approaching the subject seriously.

Apahonchich walks around the Finnish Museum of Photography at the Cable Factory looking at the works of her colleagues in the Festival of Political Photography, which presents the work of twenty artists from around the world in a show entitled Potentiality.

In Apahonchich’s own images, men relax alongside “Relaxation for men” ads. One reads the newspaper, another plays on the train tracks, a third does yoga, and a fourth plays the balalaika.

A fifth man fishes.

According to the artist, the men who wanted into the project hardly represent the majority opinion regarding prostitution.

“Russia is still a conservative country and we have a different notion of women’s rights than in Scandinavia. It is common for men not to see any problem with prostitution. Many of them think it’s quite acceptable if, say, they have problems with their marriages.”

It is illegal in Russia to advertise sex services but, according to Apahonchich, Russian cities are in no hurry to get rid of the ads. She argues that the economic interests of the powers that be are often linked to human trafficking.

“It’s about money,” she says. “In Russia, the media have written about the links between corruption and prostitution. The police, for example, visit brothels regularly. They even have their own term for their visits. They are called ‘Saturday specials.'”

Her drastic claim is supported by a longitudinal interview study in which researchers mapped the experiences of sex workers with police in Petersburg and Orenburg. The study found that over a third of the sex workers had been abused by police.

The study was done in 2014, but researchers have obtained similar outcomes in more recent studies.

Estimates of the total number of people involved in sex work in Russia are as high as three million.

“I don’t approve of the word ‘sex worker,'” says Apahonchich. “In my opinion, it is not work but exploitation. I am talking about women who are involved in prostitution. Of course, there are differences in how people view the matter. If someone wants to call themselves a sex worker, I accept their choice, of course, but I don’t think of it that way.”

She also finds it misleading to talk about “sex.”

“Many girls go into prostitution at the age of thirteen or even younger. I think it is a question of rape culture more than of sex.”

darja-3Man and pillow. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich has a personal reason for regarding prostitution negatively. She earns her daily bready by teaching Russian to women who have come from Syria and Afghanistan, for example. She is painfully aware her students are at high risk of being marginalized and forced into prostitution.

“Since they come to Russia as refugees and immigrants, they are on really shaky ground. They are often undocumented and cannot defend themselves,” Apahonchich says, looking anxious.

She is clearly concerned about her students.

She has not shown her photographs in class.

“I try to keep politics to a minimum,” she says. “A large number of my students are from quite conservative regions and I don’t want to scare them. Also, some of the students’ husbands have a negative attitude to their going to school, so in this sense, too, caution is important.”

“So, I concentrate on teaching the language and I answer their questions.”

There is one subject, however, that Apahonchich plans to raise in class.

She wants to teach the women how to talk to the police.

darja-4A man relaxes by meditating. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Relaxation for men. Although sex advertising has been moving to the Internet in Russia, the letters on the cobblestones still entice men into becoming customers.

Apahonchich’s own attitude to the advertisements has changed as she has photographed them.

“In the past, I would complain about them and think about all the young women they concealed. But after shooting them I saw them as locations and advertisements.  I would think that one was in a good spot for marketing or this one had really different colors, that I had no photos with yellow lettering in them. Or this image was in a good place for setting up and shooting.”

Another thing has changed. The photographer now knows what to say to men who fiercely defend prostitution.

“I ask them whether they would be willing to do the same job themselves or let their children do it. Since they don’t want it for their own children, why would they wish it on others?”

darja-5.JPGThe ads encouraging relaxation are also in English. Photo by Darya Apahonchich. Courtesy of Helsingin Sanomat

Apahonchich recounts how one of the men in the photos heard a child ask his parents what the ad meant as the model sat waiting on the pavement.

It was no easy task for the parents to explain what the words meant.

Nor was it easy to tell the child why a price had been placed under a woman’s name.

Translated from the Finnish by the Russian Reader

 

Osip Mandelstam: “Oh, How Much I Would Like”

О, как же я хочу,
Не чуемый никем,
Лететь вослед лучу,
Где нет меня совсем.

А ты в кругу лучись –
Другого счастья нет,
И у звезды учись
Тому, что значит свет.

А я тебе хочу
Сказать, что я шепчу,
Что шепотом лучу
Тебя, дитя, вручу.

Он только тем и луч,
Он только тем и свет,
Что шепотом могуч
И лепетом согрет.

27 марта 1937

Source

DSCN3778-EFFECTS

Oh, how much I would like,
Sensed by no one or caught,
To chase a beam of light
To somewhere I am nought.

You should shine in the ray,
With a star for tutor
(Bliss knows no other way)
On how the light matters.

But to you I would like
To say that I whisper,
That you, child, to the light,
Whispering, I’ll deliver.

For the light is the light,
And the beam is the beam,
Only in whispering’s might,
Kindled by babbling’s heat.

March 27, 1937

Photo and translation by the Russian Reader