Born in Siberia, Slava Mogutin is a New York based Russian-American multimedia artist and author exiled from Russia for his outspoken queer writing and activism.
A third-generation writer and autodidact photographer, he became the first Russian to be granted political asylum in the US on the grounds of homophobic persecution.
Informed by his bicultural dissident and refugee experience, Mogutin’s work examines the notions of displacement and identity, pride and shame, devotion and disaffection, love and hate.
Mogutin is the author of seven books of writings in Russian, as well as three monographs of photography, Lost Boys, NYC Go-Go, and Bros & Brosephines, and two illustrated collections of poetry, Food Chain and Pictures & Words.
He’s the winner of Andrei Bely Prize for poetry and the Tom of Finland Foundation Award for artistic achievement.
Where are you from and where are you based now? Could you tell us a little about both?
I was born in Siberia, moved to Moscow at the age of 14. I left Russia when I was 21 and emigrated to the US. I moved to NY and have been based here ever since.
How do you feel about Russia now?
I’ve been living in the US for over 25 years, longer than I spent in Russia. But my Russian heritage is as important for me as my US citizenship. Regardless of my feelings about the government and its policies towards minorities and journalists, I love my culture and people and hope to return one day with a show of my work.
Could you describe your evolution as an Artist? And what about the moments that had a massive impact on your evolution?
I started out as a poet and journalist and ultimately I remain true to my literary roots in everything I do. I tell stories of real people and experiences through the prism of my own personal journey as a refugee and immigrant. I document queer community. I pay tribute to the queer elders and champion the queer youth.
How do you think your body is political?
I see my body as a tool of resistance. When Joseph Beuys talked about every human as a social sculpture, he meant that the very act of living can be perceived and presented as an act of political activism. From my early performances in Russia I put myself in the very center of my artistic expression. I rebelled against the system through my art as much as my actions.
Which questions do you want to raise with your art / body / choices / being?
My work is a celebration of humanity in all shapes and forms. Love and hate, devotion and disaffection, faith and nihilism, dissent and conformity, displacement and identity–these are some of the themes that I investigate in my art.
What does acceptance imply and mean to you?
Acceptance means being able to continue with the work I love, being able to make, show and publish my work not just virtually but also in real life, in the real world. As much as I appreciate online platforms, nothing compares to having physical exhibitions and direct human interaction with your audience.
And what about Anarchism?
Anarchy is a very Russian concept. Only a nation that was always under brutal rule could produce such a romantic and utopian ideology. Peter Kropotkin, the founding father of Anarchism said, “where there is authority, there is no freedom” and “variety is life; uniformity is death” and “prisons are universities of crime, maintained by the state.” Oscar Wilde who was jailed for being gay—or “gross indecency” in the late 19th century terms—was inspired by Kropotkin and identified as an anarchist: “The form of government that is most suitable to the artist is no government at all. Authority over him and his art is ridiculous.” I believe being a true artist is synonymous to being an anarchist.
Could you tell us about your POLAROID RAGE series and subjects involved?
I’ve been working on this series over the past few years. It was mostly shot between NY, LA and Berlin—my favorite cities where I feel most inspired. I shot hundreds of portraits of remarkable people I was fortunate to meet and work with, including legends such as Lydia Lunch, Genesis P-Orridge, Ron Athey, Buck Angel, Cassils, Christeene, Sophia Lamar, Colette Lumiere, and Durk Dehner of Tom of Finland Foundation. It’s still a project in progress, and I’m currently working on a book and several shows based on Polaroid Rage.
Your work is a celebration of the Beauty of Life. How would you describe your personal experience of Love?
For me being an artist equals being always in love. I fall in love with my art, my collaborators, my muses, the people I photograph and interview who I find inspiring and aspirational.
Which are your fears at the moment?
While growing up, my main fears were associated with the oppressive state system. Nowadays, the main danger comes from giant tech corporations that use social media as a surveillance and data harvesting tool while imposing blanket censorship and controlling freedom of speech and artistic expression. It’s the kind of dystopia that writers like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned us about many years ago.
Well, where does art fit in all this? I see my art as a weapon against the existing status quo, hypocrisy, censorship and brainwashing of any kind. As James Baldwin put it, “Artists are here to disturb the peace. They have to disturb the peace. Otherwise, chaos.”
Where can we find you online?