Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Vaginas, dildos, strap-ons and Ukraine

Anna Mikhailova’s queer artwork lights a spark in the troubled Eastern European country

Ukrainian artist Anna Mikhailova. Credit: Anna Mikhailova

Queer Ukrainian artist Anna Mikhailova may change the world. In North America, her provocative paintings of vaginas, dildos and strap-ons would be considered a little uncouth. In Ukraine, they are downright illegal.

In addition to being softly and carefully rendered, each painting is born of a love of queer subject matter and a spirited defiance toward an oppressive Ukrainian government.

According to Mikhailova’s North American agent, Ansley Avdyeyenko, the political climate in Ukraine for LGBT people is grave. As in Russia, a motion was read in the Ukrainian parliament in 2012 that would forbid expression or promotion of homosexuality in any way. Should this motion become law, citizens would face five years imprisonment and debilitating fines.

Artists like Mikhailova, whose work shows sex toys and human anatomy, would certainly be penalized.

As Mikhailova does not speak English, this interview was conducted via email using Avdyeyenko as intermediary. Daily Xtra’s questions were emailed in English, translated into Ukrainian, and then the artist’s responses were translated back into English.

We wanted to know more about what drives Mikhailova, her closeted buyers and what can be done to keep her safe.

Xtra: Anna, in many ways you are risking your life by creating this art, in a political climate very similar to what we know of Russia. Why is this important to you?

Anna Mikhailova: It’s my ultimate freedom to express myself through my art. There are not many gay and lesbian voices in the art world in Ukraine, so I just don’t have the right to be silent. My art happens to be provocative, but I will never stop painting because of the social and political pressure. The Ukrainian government needs internal enemies of the state in order to keep people distracted from their failures, and it’s very convenient to represent gay citizens as state enemies. There is the same percentage of gay and lesbian people in Ukraine as in other countries, but the majority of them are in the closet, because it’s dangerous to talk openly about your homosexuality. It’s basically the same situation as in Russia. Ironically enough, the first person who bought my artwork for a private collection was a Russian politician who is a closeted gay.

Tell us about how you choose your subject matter.

I don’t choose the subject matter intentionally. I just start to document my everyday life through paintings. My art is not about objects; it’s about love.

What do you think will happen when international attention leaves Sochi and Eastern Europe? Has the pressure from North America improved the lives of LGBT citizens in Ukraine?

When international attention leaves the region, the problems that were brought to the attention of the world will still be there. When international media talks about Sochi and Eastern Europe, the government doesn’t make an attempt to solve existing problems. It doesn’t work like that. They just find new ways of explaining why these problems are still there or hiding them. Pressure from North America has helped LGBT citizens of Ukraine. The average Ukrainian citizen is closed-minded, and examples of countries where human rights are respected show them other perspectives. Support of those who fought for their rights and have won is important because it gives us hope.

What will you do if your paintings become illegal?

I will buy my next canvas and keep painting.