fri 14/06/2024

Queendom review - an LGBTQ+ performance artist takes to the streets of Moscow in protest | reviews, news & interviews

Queendom review - an LGBTQ+ performance artist takes to the streets of Moscow in protest

Queendom review - an LGBTQ+ performance artist takes to the streets of Moscow in protest

Startlingly beautiful costumes designed to challenge the authorities

On the escalator. Still from 'Queendom' directed by Agniia Galdanova

It takes a brave or a foolhardy person to walk the streets wearing almost nothing but barbed wire and platform shoes, especially when the occasion is an anti-war demo in Moscow and the penalty for joining the march is up to 15 years in jail.

It’s February 2022, Russia has invaded Ukraine and large numbers of protestors are chanting “No to War”; then as the police start pouncing, the chant switches to “shame on you”. Gena Marvin (whose pronoun is she) is among those bundled into a police van; the barbed wire outfit made her an obvious target.

It’s not the first time the androgynous, LGBTQ+ performance artist has had run ins with the law. Dressed like an ice queen in an eye-catching all-white costume, she tries to enter a Moscow park full of infantrymen celebrating Paratroopers’ Day. Her mountainous head dress and high-heeled boots add elevation to her slender body, which is wrapped in a net of rope-like tentacles.

Marvin creates theatrical costumes like this from nothing but duct tape and cheap tat. And despite the extreme reactions she gets, they make her feel a million dollars. “Whenever I go out in character, I’m on top of the world”, she says. “I’m like a knight in armour.”

On this occasion, the park security guy is adamant that she must go. “Your overtly provocative and destructive appearance could lead to incidents,” he explains. “It’s better you leave.” As she sashays away, a gleeful paratrooper yells “Hey…Fucking faggot !” He is clearly spoiling for a fight.

Armour or a thick skin have become essential attributes, since even her everyday appearance – shaven head, clown-like make-up and high heels – engenders hostility. This is especially true in her home town of Magadan, an arctic outpost that was once a Soviet Gulag. A woman in the neighbouring block of flats decides to let loose, for instance. “You’re a man, act like one,” she yells. “You just prance about in tights with a wiener that hasn’t grown.” Others resort to violence, giving her a bloody lip and attempting to strangle her companion.

Filmed over four years, Agniia Galdanova’s documentary follows Marvin’s ongoing struggle to come to terms with her identity and the acrimony it generates. “I’m still searching for myself”, she says. “I don’t identify with any gender or orientation.” And Gena, her other-worldly performance persona, plays a vital role in this exploration.

Turning heads.Gena Marvin enters the Moscow subwayGena has gained a substantial following on instagram with performances that are emblematic of a profound sense of alienation and the need to be free from convention. We see her stuck in thick black mud, trapped in a suffocating cocoon of cling film and, dressed in gold cellophane, hanging from a funfair ride like an abandoned corpse.

I’d have liked to see more of her strikingly beautiful costumes and performances. After all, they are what single her out and attract the unwanted attention of the authorities. But instead, Galdanova focuses on the fraught relationship between Marvin and the grandparents who brought her up. Assuming that Gena is just a passing phase, Grandpa tries to persuade his errant grandson to “stop that shit and be a normal guy”. He even suggests joining the army, little knowing that Marvin is desperately trying to get out of Russia to escape the draft and find somewhere she no longer feels like “an odd weirdo”.

Yet they mean well and in a long-distance phone call that leaves Marvin in floods of tears, they offer to help however they can and beg her to keep in touch. These fraught interactions are very affecting, but they encourage one to see Marvin more as a petulant teenager than a brave activist. And given that, in recent months, Putin has passed a law banning all LGBTQ+ “propaganda”, thus criminalising characters like Gena, with her personal approach Galdanova inadvertently underplays Marvin’s importance for the poor sods left behind.

Armour or a thick skin have become essential attributes


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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