REPORT FROM KIEV – „LOVE against Propaganda“

05.03.2014 | cb — No comments

“I believe in the goodness of humanity. But I believe humanity needs a lot of help.” (Naomi Lawrence)

It was obvious that we were going to need to improvise. A Skype-broadcast between Kiev and Munich is not something we do every day. But for Stas’ computer to bite the dust just one hour before the live-broadcast is actually a disaster! But no one is despairing since on this day, 14th February, too much has already happened. So we drink some Crimean Champagne.

At least Naomi’s pictures are still hanging up. Working with great precision, Barbara and Conrad, both members of Munich Kiev Queer, used all their strength to get the hooks into the wall and hang up the twelve differently sized pictures; then right at the end, the artist stuck the appropriate texts on the walls next to the pictures. The exhibition “Gay Propaganda” is supposed to take care of gender clichés, homophobia and the fairytale of “traditional values”. In twelve pictures the Munich-based painter Naomi Lawrence has brought new life to popular figures from cartoons and comics. Putting them in unusual contexts, with pointed remarks, one-liners and a lot of humor she has placed the heroes of our childhood in a new light.


She asks a lot of questions: Obviously Batman loves women – doesn’t he? Is Wickie, the clever son of the chieftain, not actually a girl? And naturally Leopold fights bravely against his enemies, the mice – but doesn’t he convince, the artless tomcat, more with friendliness?

For Ukraine this exhibition is revolutionary. “It wasn’t easy to find a location for it”, says Stanislav Mishchenko, vice-director of the NGO Gay Alliance Ukraine and member of Munich Kiev Queer. Everyone calls him Stas. He takes care of the project from the Kiev side, which CSD München and the City of Munichs Department of Culture arrange together with Munich’s Gay Community Centre Sub, Munich Kiev Queer and KyivPride. His people sought out 20 galleries in the whole of Kiev; only two of them showed interest in the end.

The gallery Karas is located at the Andryivskyi Descent, a picturesque area of Kiev from the 18th/19th century in the middle of the introspective-seeming  tradesmen’s neighbourhood, Podil. The building itself is extremely smart, an elegant place for our exhibition.


Asking questions about gender and sexual identity however can be dangerous in Ukraine. In the past, such exhibitions have been stormed and destroyed. That is not going to happen this evening. The exhibition, attended in Munich by 100 people and in Kiev by 70 people, goes peacefully. In fact it is a great success because it even reaches people who are not normally interested in such topics. The on-call service of the German Embassy knows that this evening, Valentine’s Day, we are hosting this special event. And in the gallery there are surveillance cameras, which appear to send their images directly to the police. But violence is not the problem today – it is technology.

Stas is on edge, his hair messed up over his face.

In the early afternoon it has already been noticed that two cables and an amplifier are missing for the band’s soundcheck. After some to-and-fro the Munich-based band, QueenBaba, has travelled to Kiev just to provide a concert for “Gay Propaganda”. Meanwhile though the Kiev Revolution as described by the German media appeared too dangerous to the four musicians. But then they did come on Thursday for two nights. And after the sound check they unexpectedly went straight off to the Maidan. The Ukrainian experiment with democracy really left an impression on the women. “It is fascinating and touching”, says singer Barbara Haupt.


QueenBaba quickly got over the technical problems with the help of Vova. The head of the gallery has himself long played in bands. He bypassed the loudspeakers with wire he made himself, jokingly referred to as a “Ukrainian adapter”, by the bass Barbara Lux, even though she was in no joking mood this afternoon. The Ukrainians’ improvisational skills cannot be underestimated.

So all is well: The pictures are on the walls, the music is ready to go, the information table at the fireplace looks smart. Even the German beer is already there, real Paulaner beer from Munich. Sibylle von Tiedemann and Thomas Rappel, Bavarian Mr. Leather, both members of Munich Kiev Queer, have been kind enough to get the champagne. Everything would have been perfect if it hadn’t been for the projector. Stas’ laptop and the projector are not getting along with one another. All sorts of people try all sorts of solutions until Stas’ computer finally gives up completely. The first skype-test with Munich without the projector had worked out fine at 5pm. We had no problems talking to presenter Thomas Lechner in the Sub. But now, what can we do?

Meanwhile the first guests are arriving. “Everything will be fine” is the usual Ukrainian slogan of the day. Everyone is making phone calls enquiring about laptops. Kira Shavchenko, a friend of the presenter Olena Semenova in Kiev, tries to repair the computer. Three further computers are on their way. It will be ok in the end.


Thomas Lechner and Conrad are now thinking up a Plan B over the phone. If the live broadcast doesn’t work, Kiev can go ahead on its own. The presenter, the artist and the translator are all there. Anna Dovgopol from the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung spontaneously offered her services after the people of Kiev made it clear to those in Munich that Kiev cannot do without translation. Until Thursday evening, translation from English was not planned.

Thomas smses: “We all hope that it works out.” The Sub is full of people, city councillor Lydia Dietrich is there. Without live broadcast, though – without the artist herself – the evening would not be nearly as nice. We postpone the opening by half an hour and tinker around a bit more.


And then: a miracle! The substitute laptop enables the connection via skype. The projector is still unable to project a picture onto the screen but an emergency solution has been found: we just film the screen of the laptop with a tablet. Vova’s colleague Konstantin, a heterosexual technician, helps us. “If I’d known this was an event about homophobia”, he says, “I wouldn’t have come. But it’s great here. Ukraine needs events like this. We want to have an independent, democratic country.”

Stas goes for a smoke and doesn’t appear later.

It gets exciting: we are online. Is it going to work? Yes!!!! Munich and Kiev are linked live. There are cheers from the other end; the crowd in the Sub is getting loud. The evening begins emotionally and we see the first tears.

Now Olena and Thomas take over the presenting. In the Sub the sound and picture quality are great, but unfortunately not in Kiev, but the original guests are there to make up for it! Even though the screen between Naomi’s pictures looks more like “Star Wars” than like a broadcast from the Munich gay centre, we are happy it’s working! After a short welcome the green city councillor Lydia Dietrich talks in Munich. She has already talked a lot about her experiences in Kiev in the Sub on her own. She has been heavily involved in the LGBT work of the twin cities Kiev and Munich for two years; in 2013 she was at KyivPride with mayor Hep Monatzeder and her colleague, Reinhard Bauer of the SPD.

“Hello Kiev”, she says. And Kiew cheers back. Dietrich denounces the law against so-called Gay-Propaganda, which has already come into force in Russia and has passed its first reading in Kiev and will be on the agenda again soon. She articulates her solidarity with all lesbians, gays and transgender in Ukraine and promises to continue her involvement. Anna translates meticulously. Those in Kiev and in Munich fall silent.


Taras Karasiichuk, chairman of KyivPride, also says something. He never believed that the topic of homophobia could be treated in such an aesthetic, attractive way. “I am very happy about this!”

Now Olena starts to interview the artist herself. “Naomi, what is special about your pictures?” She explains that she wants to make clear to the public that it is the distinctiveness, the otherness and the quirks of our childhood heroes, which make them so loveable in our eyes. “We accept and love them for that. But in our everyday world”, Naomi believes, “they would have great difficulty living that way just because they are different.”

Not everyone in the audience understands what she means. In the gallery two people have found their way among the guests, a woman and a man, who now start to ask questions. They don’t make any bones about their attitude; they are homophobic. The man, who does not wish to be recorded over skype, has taken photos of every single visitor and of each page in the catalogue, which he does not want to buy.


“Why does the artist sexualize these innocent comic and cartoon figures in this way”, the man asks, requesting to remain anonymous. “It’s just about entertainment, isn’t it”. A woman with a handbag, also anonymous, supports him. Awkwardly, firstly in Ukrainian, then in Russian, she explains the difference between love and sex, with the clear message: lesbians and gays cannot love, it is only about sex.

Naomi Lawrence asks the two of them why they incessantly think just about sex. The audiences in Kiev and Munich laugh. But the two critics are animated to ask further abstruse questions. The atmosphere is tense. They worked up the courage by drinking champagne. “They don’t care for us but they love our champagne”, Olena says later. Thomas in Munich manages to de-escalate the situation with some clever words.

Now the community gets to talk. Questions for Naomi alternate with questions about the current situation in Ukraine. Both sides are interested in one another. Valia for example, psychologist with the Gay Alliance Ukraine, criticizes the fact that so many right-wing groups take part in the EuroMaidan movement; a debate develops.


Unfortunately time runs out. Now it’s the bassist of QueenBaba’s turn to speak. She wants to speak up for human rights and announces a surprise. Then the concert starts: Munich listens to two of the songs, one of them is a Ukrainian love song. All of Kiev sings along – even more tears, then Munich thanks them and goes offline to continue the discussion.

In Kiev the party continues. Stas is there again and is dancing.

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