Somehow, some of us don’t believe that love means the same thing to all of us. That what some call love is merely perversion masquerading as love. But it’s always the same love, no matter what gender identification or sexual orientation. Over the past few years, the conversation surrounding gender and sexuality has become more accessible thanks to digital forums and, as a result, these subjects have filtered into mainstream culture and opened up a wider conversation.

For many, 2016 has already been a year of great progress. In a recent study carried out by J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, an agency that forecasts global trends, it was found that only forty-eight percent of millennials aged thirteen to twenty identify as exclusively heterosexual, less than half of the surveyed number. And this shift is reflected in the media we are choosing to consume, with a surge in non-heterosexual storylines appearing across film and television in shows such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards to great acclaim.

Meanwhile in Russia the cultural landscape looks very different. The struggle between East and West is keenly felt by the old Eastern Bloc and the resulting cultural confusion has resulted in the dominance of conservative policies, including anti-gay legislation. Since Vladimir Putin’s second re-election as president in 2012, state TV continuously portrays LGBTQ lifestyles as a contamination of morals, hailing from the obscene West.

A severe lack of information on the topic is a significant, if not the principal, factor in the propagation of homophobia in Russia. Since the passing of anti-propaganda laws in 2013, the passing of information or materials relating to homosexuality to anyone under 18 years old will be punishable by a large fine and can even lead to the closure of businesses and organisations. The only possible result of such state-sponsored censorship is that subsequent generations will know even less than their forebears, bar the deeply prejudiced, negative portrayal they are presented with by the government.

And yet, when all other forms of protest are exhausted, art remains a potent weapon. Following Russia’s crackdown on the LGBTQ community, IKEA removed an image of a lesbian couple from their Russian catalogue. In response, a group of activists staged a photoshoot in which gay couples were photographed kissing inside IKEA showrooms. In 2013, artist Pyotr Pavlensky nailed his bare testicles onto the cobblestones of the Red Square in Moscow, in protest at his country being turned into a police-state.

A few months later, Buro 24/7 was the recipient of a huge online backlash after publishing an image of Dasha Zhukova sitting on a black, semi-naked, female mannequin. The piece, designed by Bjarne Melgaard, was itself a reinterpretation of Allen Jones’ infamous ‘Chair’. Nevertheless, artist and photographer Alexander Kargaltsev was so infuriated by the image of Zhukova that he decided to respond with an even more controversial photo, depicting a naked black man sitting on naked white man, responding to the suggestions of racial and sexual inequality in the original images and, in doing so, re-opening the conversation surrounding these issues to the Russian population.

Words by Katharina Lina.

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