The Harriman Institute is pleased to present the exhibit Moscow: Gay Cruising Sites of the Soviet Capital, 1920s-1980s featuring a series of works photographs by artist Yevgeniy Fiks.
“What is the attitude of bourgeois society to homosexuals? Even if we take into account the differences existing on this score in the legislation of various countries, can we speak of a specifically bourgeois attitude to this question? Yes, we can. Independently of these laws, capitalism is against homosexuality by virtue of its entire class-based tendency. This tendency can be observed throughout the course of history, but it is manifested with especial force now, during the period of capitalism’s general crisis.”
— from a 1934 letter to Stalin by Harry Whyte, a British communist living in Moscow
Moscow 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 Moscovites.
Sverdlov Square with its Monument to Karl Marx, a public lavatory at the Lenin Museum, Sapunov Lane (named after the hero and martyr of the October Revolution Y. N. Sapunov), Gorky Park of Culture and Rest, and Sretensky Boulvard (which later housed a monument to Lenin’s wife N.K. Krupskaya) are among the gay cruising sites of Soviet-era Moscow photographed in this series. Moscow is about junctions but mostly disjunctions of the “queer” and the “Soviet” discourses in the USSR narrative.
The Moscow spaces photographed in this series are empty, sterile, and devoid of any subjects. Moscow is a project of mourning and remembrance, a kaddish not only for the bygone repressed and criminalized sexual and gender dissent on the margins of the Soviet society, but for the larger Communist project of universal emancipation itself. Thousands of Moscovites pass through these invisible spaces of commemoration every day, without knowledge of their significance in Soviet gay history.
Moscow traces an alternative history of Moscow, where mundane and seemingly silent views of streets, squares or parks of the Russian capital become a counter-monument of queer experience under Soviet socialism. Moscow attempts to overlap the main narrative of Soviet history with experiences of difference and particularity on the margins of the Soviet meta narrative.’
The opening reception on September 4 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 in 1933-1934. After reading it, Stalin noted on the margins “idiot and degenerate.” The letter was to remain unanswered but was kept in the closed Soviet archives until 1990 and was translated into English for the publication in the book Moscow (Ugly Duckling Presse) by Thomas Campbell.
Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Communist Party USA,” a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement. Fiks’ work has been shown internationally. This includes exhibitions in the United States at Winkleman and Postmasters galleries (both in New York) Mass MoCA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow; Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City, and the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon. His work has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).