It was about ten years ago, in the deep ends of the Internet, when I heard of a New York based artist named Slava Mogutin. There was no Tumblr to browse queer art, no super easy access to an abundance of amazing queer zines and I was still a Christian farm-raised baby from former USSR fresh off the plane in Berlin. However, when I saw Slava’s work for the first time, something clicked – or rather a switch went off. I’ve been infatuated and captivated by his work ever since.
Now, a couple of features, exhibitions and a decade later, I talked to Slava about his book Bros & Brosephines published by powerHouse Books – a milestone for his career. And homophobia, and vulnerability. By the way, Slava’s full name is Yaroslav Yurievich Mogutin. Mogutin means “mighty” in Russian and the short Slava stands for “fame” or “glory”.
In Bros & Brosephines you question the concepts of machismo, extreme masculinity and butchness. How has your opinion on the topic evolved in the last couple of years?
Slava: I grew up with machismo and butchness so I know how to play it. It was kind of a survival mechanism for a lot of people of my generation who grew up under Communism. Most of my early photographic work is focused on that survival mechanism as a social model. In Bros & Brosephines I wanted to tear down that macho Iron curtain and see who and what hides underneath.
Coming from a former Communist country myself, I always thought that I’ve left behind the macho culture. Where do you think that fear of showing vulnerability comes from in the gay culture?
Slava: It takes a lot of guts and balls to be a true sissy in a homophobic macho environment. Bros & Brosephines is a book for macho sissies in training, even those who would never admit it.
Would you describe yourself as masculine?
Slava: I prefer mescaline to masculine. My ideal of beauty is something in between.
Have you ever done drag?
Slava: I’ve done it here and there socially and for fun. Most uniforms look like drag.
What would your drag name be?
How do you find your models? How do you convince those bro-looking guys to pose in rather intimate and vulnerable positions?
Slava: I mostly photograph my friends and volunteers who’re already familiar with my work. In some cases, I used street casting agencies, in others guys from Craigslist. And sometimes bro-looking guys come up with the most vulnerable positions you would imagine, and that’s what I’m usually looking for.
What’s the best form of rebellion in times when showing your true colors could mean death? Take Chechnya and Nigeria for example.
Slava: Be true to yourself, think for yourself and always have faith in higher purpose and powers. We’re all here for a reason. Being different is a blessing not a curse.
In the context of Instagram and other social media being very restrictive and prude with regard to nudity, do you think we would ever overcome the fear of nipples, breasts and pubes?
Slava: It’s all about corporate banality and mind control. This homophobic censorship is all about policing queer community on social media and there’s no way to justify it. Censorship spells fear, queer spells fear, anything different, rebellious and free spells fear for the Big Brother. Welcome back to the virtual 1984, and now show your queer nipple to the Censorship Monster!
What’s your personal battle right now?
Slava: I have so much on my plate and I must eat it all. As my grandma used to say, your power is in your leftovers.