Photography Nick Gavrilov

NSFW photographs of the youth challenging Russia’s sexual status quo

Nick Gavrilov and Generation Z’s Project X shows how sex has become an act of protest against the country’s stern morality codes.

by Anastasiia Fedorova
|
17 June 2020, 8:00am

Photography Nick Gavrilov

Nakedness in the digital age is a paradox. On the one hand, it’s a perfectly normal part of our lives: we all take naked selfies, we all watch porn. On the other, we live in an era of censorship, where our nipples or pubes can be easily marked as ‘adult content’ and removed from social media platforms -- Instagram, Tumblr or otherwise. Choosing to document intimacy or nakedness can be expressive, creative and freeing -- but it can also be political. It’s this intersection that photographer Nick Gavrilov and creative collective Generation Z explore in Project X, a sex-positive visual manifesto from Russia’s youth, who live in a country where expressions of sexuality are notoriously silenced and policed.

This spring, photographer Nick Gavrilov and producer Diana Spit teamed up with Russian label Kruzhok to document what love in Russia looks like during quarantine. Naturally, self-isolation was their starting point, specifically the fact that being stuck indoors 24/7 has allowed many of us to tune into both our own and our partners’ bodies, as well as to reconsider our understanding of intimacy. Shot via web camera in the intimate spaces of three couples and one single person -- each in pursuit of pleasure -- it quickly became apparent that the topic extended far beyond the confines of quarantine: it also tied into wider cultural preconceptions about sex in Russia and beyond.

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

“In Russia, sex is still taboo, something not talked about and considered dirty and sinful. The new generation is also suffering because of the lack of sexual education,” Diana and Nick say. “It was important for us to include different couples in the project and be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. We are all equal, and so are our needs, feelings and desires. Closeness and intimacy is something which concerns everyone.”

Kruzhok, the fashion label that co-created the project, is a brand that also speaks to the search for identity that so many Russian young people are on. Focusing on straightforward and practical streetwear, their clothes are bold and boxy, offering a sense of protection against harsh urban environments. At the same time, the label is a continuous research project into Russia’s day-to-day reality and design history. In the past, they’ve collaborated with Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics for a collection inspired by Soviet history of space travel, and shot a film at a garbage dump to highlight the poor state of waste management in the country. Looking into the roles that sex plays in the lives of members of the new generation is just another attempt to understand what occupies Russia’s youth today.

“We like to switch between very different spheres, like science or art or sex, to show that the world is very complex and that everything is interconnected," says Stas Falkov, the founder of Kruzhok. "The topic of sexual relationships is hardly spoken of in Russia, and it was important for us to make the project look very day-to-day, with no special lighting, staging or retouching.”

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about love and sex in Russia without mentioning the ongoing oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. Under the so-called ‘gay propaganda law’, in place since 2013, there is no space for LGBTQ+ representation in the cultural mainstream -- whether that’s in the media, in public space or in education. Being young and queer in Russia means erasure at best, direct violence at worst. It’s partly the reason why the team behind the project chose to depict the spaces in which queer Russian youth can freely express their love: the intimacy of their rooms and online.

Indeed, the online safe spaces that Russian young people have created can be glorious and celebratory, like the Digital Pride initiative that queer culture publication O-zine is hosting later this month. But they are also very fragile, as we recently saw in the case of Yulia Tsvetkova, who’s now facing six years in prison for posting feminist drawings of the female body on her social media. In such a hostile environment, these photos prove that love, when pressured to hide behind closed doors, becomes a fearless, defiant statement of existence.

“I don’t see any reasons to hide anything. Yes, I am sexy, I am gay, and I love being photographed naked! People who don’t understand this are stuck in their prejudices and I’m sorry for them”, 22-year-old Kirill, who took part in the shoot with his boyfriend Ismail, explains. “If we don’t talk about these things, nothing is going to change. A lot of people say that I inspire them to be freer with their bodies with my example”.

“I think a lot of people in Russia are afraid to talk about their sexuality because they’re hiding it. I’m here to try to change that,” Ismail agrees. “I am openly gay and am not ashamed of it. I love to love and feel, so why not share that?”

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

“For me, this project was not so much about openness as it was about capturing a turning point of our times through body, relationship and technology,” says 22-year-old Liza who was photographed with her girlfriend. “When it comes to sex, we were taught about shame, but no-one ever taught us about attraction and intimacy as part of a healthy human relationship, or about the body in art. It’s certainly difficult to be yourself in Russia.”

For many young Russians today, sex goes beyond private pleasure and is connected to freedom and social change. “I’m very happy to see how different our perception of sex is from that of the previous generation," says 24-year-old Irina, who was photographed solo. "I think we should keep discussing it freely and introduce comprehensive sex education, so the idea of active consent becomes something normalised."

Dasha and Gosha, the heterosexual couple in the shoot, admitted that they took part for the experience, the challenge and new sensations -- but also to contribute to the future of conversation around sex. “I would love to see more free dialogue, and people being unafraid of their feelings in life and in the media. We need a healthy conversation about sex through activism and art, and quality sex education so the new generation knows how to take care of their emotional and physical health,” Dasha says.

“It was funny to see comments from people from the generation above us under these photographs -- they saw nothing but porn,” Gosha adds. “Personally, I don’t think Russian teenagers today have issues talking about sex. We just need to keep contributing to projects like this to make these discussions commonplace.”

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

Nick Gavrilov Generation Z Project X

Credits


Photography Nick Gavrilov
Production Diana Spit (Generation Z)

Tagged:
Sex
russia
LGBT+
generation z
LGBTQ
Nick Gavrilov