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Stalin and Putin sitting in a tree

by Robin Stanford February 25, 2014
Stalin and Putin sitting in a tree

Homophobic legislations have been making the rounds of the media — with the current Sochi Olympics, all eyes are on Russia with their recent anti-queer propaganda bill. To Russia with Love, by Montrealer Damián Siqueiros, speaks out against Russia’s discriminatory stance through the depiction of various Russian homosexuals in a romantic setting.

Although the photos were not present at last week’s launch at Gallery D, the message remains thought-provoking, powerful and unphotoshopped. Press photo

The conference, held on Feb. 13, showcased many aspects of the project including the social milieu from which it emerged and the artist’s process. Attended by fifty individuals, including those involved with the project and their friends, spirits were high. But one item was missing: the artwork itself. No art was shown save for a powerpoint presentation projected onto a wall of Gallery D.

The pieces themselves did not seem to be important. The focus, rather was on what they represented in the To Russia with Love movement.

The first part of the evening reflected this purpose through a skype call with Russian artist Alexey Timbul, who gave his account of living in Russia under the threat of violence. He highlighted how in the current political environment even something as simple as meeting same-gender individuals for a date is impossible.

Traditionally, one could meet other homosexuals through various Internet dating sites, but as of late, these encounters have become dangerous. Timbul alleges that fake accounts are being created on these sites with the sole purpose of baiting homosexuals and inflicting violence upon them. This constant threat did not seem to weigh heavily on Timbul but left the audience quite somber.

Timbul further described the main issue with all pro-LGBT social movements to date. Whether they be sit-ins featuring same sex kisses, Facebook petitions, media pressure against the Sochi Olympics, or protests — all events have one thing in common: they originate from the West. Within Russia, as homosexuality is publicized as a distinctly Western social phenomenon, the fact that movements come from the outside support this feeling of otherness to Russians. It is in this context that Damián Siqueiros’ work adds to the conversation.

The pieces in the To Russia with Love collection feature iconic historic and modern queer characters with nationalistic settings. Reminiscent of Romantic-era painters such as Karl Bryullov and Rafail Levitsky, the images have a similar warm color quality. Through a process of photo-painting, the scenes were photographed and presented without the use of photoshopping. The artist used fog machines, the placement of cement dust, lighting techniques and specialized lenses to capture the artwork.

This was detailed by the author himself, along with a Wikipedia-esque description of every character utilized during the second half of the presentation. During this period the audience drifted in and out of conversation with each other and more wine glasses appeared.

Perhaps the audience’s lack of attention was due to their intimacy with the project or the fact that all images may be found, without exception, on the project’s website.

Although an interesting conference about the overall project, it was not an art display. At the moment, the artist plans to stage the same presentation in as many venues as possible to spread the word about his project. For those who would like more information about the state of Russia and what it is like to be queer within the country the conference is a must see. However, if your interest lies in the art itself, this is a presentation best to be missed.

You can view the pictures themselves on the artists’ website at torussiawithlove.squarespace.com.

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