Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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The first time I saw Slava Mogutin, he was on the cover of Index Magazine. He was fully nude, and had his arm positioned in such a way to make all men on this earth envious of his seeming endowment. I was struck by how sexy and aggressive his image was. I remember reading the story, and being totally blown away. That I was to meet him years later was one of those things that seems to keep happening when art, culture, and politics collide.

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Having worked with Slava to promote his first two monographs, Lost Boys and NYC Go-Go, I got to know something of this man who is, in my eyes, the epitome of a gentleman rebel. Equal parts intelligent, respectful, and provocative, Slava never ceases to amaze me with his philosophy of art and life, making every encounter a pleasure that is all mine.

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I first came across his WIGGERS series in 2006 when curating a show on the history of Hip Hop. What Slava brings to the culture is unlike anyone I have ever encountered, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to discuss this series in further depth. Enjoy!

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Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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You quote Rimbaud as saying “Morality is a type of brain disease.” What taboos and stereotypes are you exploring in the WIGGER series?

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Slava Mogutin: I started this series about 6 years ago, when I met my boyfriend and collaborator Brian Kenny, who identified himself as a wigger. I remember being really turned on by him wearing durags and XXL jerseys. (Brian even made a video WEAR A DURAG—a cause of continuous controversy on YouTube). It was my first exposure to this subculture. I found it very fascinating from the style perspective, but also as a social phenomenon that contradicts politically correct notions of race and sexuality. For years I’ve been documenting urban youth subcultures, so I thought it was a perfect addition to my gallery of archetypes, collected in Lost Boys—skinheads, skaters, punks, military cadets, street hustlers, ravers, etc… Wiggers perceived to be outcasts by whites and blacks alike, and being a gay wigger is like double stigma. That’s why I wanted to celebrate wiggers in this series.

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Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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How does being a Soviet dissident influence your take on American pop culture?

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SM: I think it gives me a certain perspective, different from my friends who grew up watching American television and Hollywood movies. I was always more interested in the American alternative culture—one of the reasons why I wanted to live in this country. I grew up reading the first Russian translations of Henry Miller, Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson and Burroughs. And later on, I myself translated some of the most radical and brilliant writings of Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Dennis Cooper. When I moved to New York, I was lucky to meet and work with Allen and artists like Bruce LaBruce and Terry Richardson, who influenced my own work. Still, after 15 years of living in the US, I still consider myself a Russian artist and proudly call myself a Pinko Commie Fag.

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What are your thoughts on white people adopting the culture of black America? Do you think this is mindless appropriation or a kind of cultural integration of sorts?

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SM: I don’t understand why so many people find it offensive. There’s no question that Hip Hop, just like jazz and R&B, is an African American creation, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be embraced by the white musicians and audience. I’m not talking about Vanilla Ice, who was a manufactured miracle, but I think the Beastie Boys, Eminem and The Streets not just adopted or appropriated this style, but re-interpreted it in a very creative, unique way.

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Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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Your WIGGERS are way sexier than most depictions of males in Hip Hop culture. How does your taste for men impact your sensibilities about depictions of the male form?

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SM: I think Hip Hop culture is totally sexy and homoerotic. It’s all about guys manifesting their machismo and their ghetto-blaster realness, jumping on stage with their shirts off, sagging really low, showing off their six-packs, tattoos and lots of bling. Coming from a largely monoracial country, I’ve always been a great admirer of men of color. In fact, when I first moved to New York, I used to only date black guys. My book NYC Go-Go is full of thuggy black and Latino dancers and hustlers, some of them are gay-for-pay, some are on the DL, married with kids and hustling for their families. Unlike lily-white Lost Boys, which was shot mainly in Russia and Europe, I consider this book my black baby.

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There is a series where a WIGGER is gay bashing. Why did you decide to create these images?

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SM: I thought it would be fun to shoot a scene with a skinhead being egged by a wigger. It wasn’t so much about gay bashing, but about this certain role-play, with the skinhead laying on a sidewalk in a fetal position, wearing just boots and diapers and his shaved skull resembling an egg. The most insane part was that the skinhead was my ex and this shoot was my first collaboration with Brian—literary the day we met. We were shooting in a black Muslim neighborhood in Clinton Hill, and the whole scene was so grotesque that all the neighborhood kids gathered together to watch and cheer. Some neighbors called the ambulance and the cops, but we managed to get away with it, because we told them that we were doing a school project. “Alright then,” said the cops, “you better keep those diapers on!” We ended up sampling all the voices and ambient sound and used them in a soundtrack for our video.

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Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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Being DL is the new black, so to speak. Every fifteen minutes, a new celebrity is “outted” by gossip sites, and it becomes hard to tell where truth, sensationalism, and media agendas begin and end. Everyone looks at this phenomenon from the heterosexual perspective, so I wonder, what are your thoughts on men—black, white, or otherwise—who live DL, and how do they impact the gay community?

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SM: I just read an interesting book called American Voyeur by Benoit Denizet-Lewis, and there’s a whole chapter where he’s investigating the lives of black gay men on the DL. It’s a fascinating account of this growing trend, and apparently it’s far more common than most people think. Back in my Russian days I got into trouble with the authorities for outing some closeted celebrities and politicians (one of them was Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultra-nationalist leader of the so-called Liberal Democratic Party, one of the largest fractions in the Russian Parliament, and the former Presidential candidate, who once offered me a job as his PR person). I think it was very important to out them at that time and place, considering how homophobic Russian culture and politics were. After all these years of living in exile, I think that ultimately it should be a personal choice whether to be open about their sexuality or not. In fact, there’s something very appealing about sexual ambiguity.

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Photograph © Slava Mogutin

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