Passing the Letná wall at Nábřeží Kapitána Jaroše, one cannot help but notice the photographs of young men the size of billboards. They immediately capture attention of the passersby, making them wonder about the origins of the pictures. “Lost Boys: From Russia with Love” is the name of this exhibition by the exiled Russian artist Slava Mogutin. Hosted by Artwall Gallery and opened as a part of the August LGBT Prague Pride festival, the installation offers a fresh perspective on the post-Soviet Russian generation.
Mogutin is the last Soviet dissident who received political asylum in the United States. “The most popular open gay of the 90’s”: that’s what the Russian media usually calls him. In 1994, he officially tried to marry a person of the same sex, the unacceptable act in Russia. A year later, Mogutin was accused of “malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence” and had no other option but to flee his country. Today, Mogutin lives in New York where he writes poems, takes photos and creates different art objects.
He shot the “Lost Boys” during his trips back to Russia in early 2000s, which resulted in the collection of very provocative and controversial photos. The series presents masculinity in some unusual ways, offering photographs of nude boys, skinheads, military cadets and boxers. An atmosphere of lost lives and internal rebellion unites the photos, and makes the viewer go on an adventure beyond the borders of what is acceptable in our society. Alienation, displacement and the identity crises caused by the absence of tolerance and social decay are the main themes of the “Lost Boys” collection.
The majority of the men in the photos are Mogutin’s friends. “I never took those pictures for vanity or any specific reason other than honest, sentimental and at times sexy documentation,” said Mogutin in the interview for Crave magazine. He only wanted to share these special moments and people with the world.
One of the exhibition photos shows Mogutin’s muse of that time named Anton. Mogutin admits that he had a romantic interest in Anton and even took one trip back to Russia to make many iconic portraits of him. However, other photographs feature just different strangers whom Mogutin met on the streets or at some official events like the Victory Day Parade or the Russia Day celebration on Red Square in Moscow. Together, these photos represent the new generation of today’s Russia and shed light on the difficulty of being young and different in an economically and politically corrupted society. The portraits highlight the problems of gay youth caused by Russian homophobia and anti-gay laws, such as bans on gay “propaganda” and child adoption by gay couples.
Overall, the “Lost Boys” series contains 84 photographs taken not only in Russia but also in Berlin, Amsterdam and the U.S. The Prague curators chose only five of them for the Nábřeží Kapitána Jaroše exhibit because of their political implications. According to Mogutin, his works have political impact, as the young boys in different uniforms represent the militarization of Russian society and the repressive system of the country which forces boys to serve in the army.
The decision about the place for the exhibition was not made randomly. Prague is the “perfect intersection between the East and the West, the Communist past and the capitalist present,” Mogutin told Crave magazine. This city can be considered a “geographical middle point” in Mogutin’s life as he comes from the East and lives in the West. More than that, the photographs are installed below Letná Park where the reminder of Communist oppression – the world’s largest monument of Stalin – used to be.
The presentation of the photographs on the street rather than in a gallery or a museum is another thing which arouses interest. The idea of the outdoors exhibition appeals to Mogutin: presented in this way, the photos become a part of people’s everyday life. “My work originated on the street and I’m happy to see it come full circle, back in the street domain,” said Mogutin to Hero magazine.
As the Prague Pride festival, which supported the installation, is already over, the exhibition will also be closed soon. It is on view until September 30, so hurry up to have a look at the photos and travel to hidden corners of Russia with Slava Mogutin.
Photos by Leila Mekhdiyeva