Alexander Kargaltsev is an artist, writer, photographer, actor and film director. In this last capacity he won many prizes including his short movies, The Cell (2010) and The Well (2009), both made when the Moscow-born author held a scholarship at the All-Russian State University of Cinematography, the home of most of the greats of Russian film since Eisenstein and before. Despite the many academic distinctions Kargaltsev has won, his films do not breathe the air of scholarly fustiness. Rather, they speak an individual language of refined imagination, fantasy and beauty of form. Kargaltsev is already a mature artist with a mature voice and a consummate and assured technique, which can both astonish and move.
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“In my photographs I try to show how I perceive the world: a flow of fast-moving brilliant images captured by the press of a button, a movement as gentle as a butterfly’s wing. My subjects are beauty and movement, stasis and power, intimacy and love. Although I have been away from Russia for nearly 4 years, it still haunts my art: the brutality and the cynicism of the state and its rulers are a counterpoint in my work: a passionate statement against oppression which is the daily bread of life in my former homeland today.”
Alexander Kargaltsev’s photographic project “Asylum” presented at 287 SPRING explores the lives of gay men who fled Russia for the United States due to the violence and hatred they have encountered in their motherland. For us living in New York, the idea that one could be forced to resettle across the globe only because of his or her sexual orientation may seem shocking and incomprehensible, but for many it is the reality that is so often left unnoticed.
Kargaltsev’s portraits project a striking expose of the dire situation of the LGBT community in Russia. They are arresting in their austerity and contain a poignant message of hope for a life free of fear in the New World. The artist succeeds in demonstrating the human side of the problem, in the face of the massive, painful and complex nature of the state-sponsored homophobia. The models, in their nakedness, reveal their courage in shedding many layers of fear, emerging from their harrowing past, bare and vulnerable, yet proud.
The years since the collapse of the Soviet Union – where homosexuality was criminally prosecuted — was a time of hopes and bitter disillusionment for the Russian gays and lesbians. For a moment, it seemed that the LGBT citizens of the Russian Federation were finally visible and free of state-sponsored persecution. These hopes, however, were essentially crushed in the past decade. Numerous reports indicate that the LGBT persons living in Russia today face daily threats of violence and intimidation, while the discrimination in work place, housing, and even access to health care is ubiquitous. Instead of protecting its citizens, the Government has adopted a policy of either silently ignoring their problems or encouraging hatred and intolerance of sexual minorities in society.
In 1991, when Russia opened its borders, a great number of LGBT individuals had no other choice but to flee from the abuse and mistreatment at the hands of their fellow citizens and the authorities, especially the police. Many asylum-seekers sought refuge in the countries of Western Europe and the United States. Kargaltsev’s series presents just a few of these tragic but inspiring stories, stories which often never get a chance to be told.
Former Ukraine. In the south of Putin’s Crimea, a giant factory with chimneys is built: a Crematorium for gays. Four couples are picked to test a new machine to turn them straight. Torture, interrogation, death and cleansing in the fiery furnace await them.