Ahead of the August 1st release of his latest book of provocative photography Bros & Brosephines, author/artist Slava Mogutin discusses his life as a gay Russian exile, gender fluidity and the transformative nature of art.
Originally born in Siberia, Mogutin and his family moved to Moscow in his early teens. A self-taught journalist, he worked for independent publishers and radio stations and was lauded as one of Russia’s most prominent voices of the post-Perestroika era and the only openly gay personality in the Russian media. Mogutin challenged his country’s taboos against homosexuality and became the target for two criminal cases that charged him with “malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence.” He attempted to officially register the first same-sex marriage in Russia in 1994 with his then-partner American artist Robert Filippini. The news made headlines around the world and fueled persecution by the authorities. At the age of 21, he was forced to flee Russia and, with the support of Amnesty International and PEN American Center, became the first of his countrymen to be granted asylum in the U.S. on grounds of homosexual persecution.
His career took a turn towards the visual arts once he relocated to New York City. With photography he found another outlet to challenge the status quo. He achieved global recognition in 2006 when his first monograph, Lost Boys was published. His work introduced radical narratives that blurred the lines between sex and style. Often blending fetish, porn, documentary, portraiture, fashion and fine art, Mogutin’s photography career exploded. His work has appeared in numerous publications including, The New York Times, i-D, The Village Voice and L’Uomo Vogue.
On the politically transformative nature of art:
“I do believe that art and poetry can transform the world, just the way they transformed my life. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the power of a written and spoken word, because all the best literature was banned. It’s the banned books like George Orwell’s 1984, Nabokov’s Lolita, and Jean Genet’s Thief’s Journal that I was studying as a teenager, not the official propaganda they were feeding us at school.
In the era of fake news and info wars, it feels truly surreal to see that the Trump government operates on the level of the old Soviet brainwashing machine. It’s up to the artists to stand up against this corrupt regime and speak the truth. It’s up to all of us to use our God-given talents and tools for the betterment of all, not just the rich and powerful.”
On bringing in feminine elements into his work:
“I feel like I’ve explored machismo thoroughly enough in my earlier work and I wanted to examine different aspects of sexuality and sensuality. I also think now more than ever we could all use more feminine energy. I find the whole macho man concept very outdated and a little scary. Too much testosterone is a recipe for disaster. There’s a reason why they call it body fascism.
I think androgyny is a sign of our times and I’m very fascinated by the blending of genders and genres. Let’s lose the labels that divide us. Let’s look at the truth naked and find that divine pussy within.”
On issues of non-binary gender, transexuality and gay rights integrated into the mainstream:
“Let’s not forget that we live in a liberal bubble that only covers some patches of our planet, with nearly 80 countries where homosexuality is punishable by death, illegal or semi-legal. Sadly, this long shameful list includes three most populist countries: China, India and Russia, the entire Arab world and most of Africa.
Let’s face it: we’re far from achieving universal rights and equality and the fight goes on even in the U.S., the birthplace of the LGBTQ liberation movement. What you see in the western mainstream is a sterile castrated camp being sold as the “gay norm.” Radical, unfiltered queer imagery is nowhere to be seen on TV or in glossy magazines, it’s being routinely censored on social media and excluded from most institutions.
That’s why I often feel like a queer insurgent or infiltrator, being able to show and publish the kind of work I make, using it as a weapon against bigotry, hypocrisy, and censorship. Let’s think outside the bubble but let’s defend our bubble because it’s the only bubble we have.”
Bros & Brosephines features Mogutin’s collaborations with fellow artists, including Brian Kenny, Gio Black Peter, Andrey Bartenev, Asher Levine, Martin Elmasflaco, Sebastien Meunier, Francois Sagat, Jan Wandrag, and more. The monograph contains 240 photos from 17 professional and personal series, made between 2000-2015. The tome features a preface by Zachary Drucker, essay by David J. Getsy, epilogue by Bruce LaBruce and is co-edited and designed by Jan Wandrag and is available August 1 from powerHouse Books.