Carlos Motta, Patriots, Citizens, Lovers . . . , 2015, ten-channel video installation, plywood platform. Installation view. Photo: Sergey Illin.

Carlos Motta, Patriots, Citizens, Lovers . . . , 2015, ten-channel video installation, plywood platform. Installation view. Photo: Sergey Illin.

Carlos Motta

Carlos Motta, Patriots, Citizens, Lovers . . . , 2015, ten-channel video installation, plywood platform. Installation view. Photo: Sergey Illin.

At the time of writing, the chilling echo of “Kill! Kill! Kill!” can still be heard. The cry came from right-wing Ukrainian nationalists as they disrupted and ultimately shut down a LGBTI festival in the city of L’viv, Ukraine, on March 19. The event is but one example of the social discord that has been raging across the country since it was splintered by a revolution in 2014. Responding to this context, at Kiev’s PinchukArtCentre, Colombian artist Carlos Motta exhibited Patriots, Citizens, Lovers . . . , 2015, a multimedia installation on the theme of Ukrainian LGBTI visibility, or lack thereof.

The work, a commission produced on the occasion of the institution’s 2014 Future Generation Art Prize, comprises a series of ten-minute video interviews with local LGBTI activists, including Olena Shevchenko, a member of the advocacy NGO Insight, which organized the contested festival. On a wooden base resembling both a stage and a public square, ten large flat-screen monitors were mounted vertically on posts so that they resembled protest placards. The monitors were staggered, oriented so that the viewer would weave through the ensemble as if shuffling through a picket or a crowd. Each video featured a short report by an activist standing against a ground of blue or yellow—the colors of the Ukrainian flag—and the subjects were framed in such a way that they met the viewer at eye level. Mirroring the palette of the videos, each monitor had either a blue or a yellow panel on its verso. These became backdrops to the viewer’s experience, formally inscribing the audience into the piece and situating them in a space that was sympathetic to that of the interviewees; it was the grand aesthetic gesture of the artwork.

The videos address such issues as the history of anti-LGBTI legislation in the Soviet Union, unequal social protections for LGBTI individuals, police violence, and social stigmatization. In one video, Nina Verbytskaya describes her work educating police academy recruits about sensitivity training and other de-escalation methods for respectfully handling situations that involve transsexual and transgendered people. As underscored by the use of the term citizens in Motta’s title, a concern running throughout the work is just what kind of state the Ukrainian people are forging in the wake of the revolution.

After the anticorruption demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan Square—not far from the PinchukArtCentre—in the winter of 2013–14, Ukraine became embroiled in a crisis that led not only to the removal of then-sitting president Viktor Yanukovych but also to a Russian-backed revolt in which sections of the country were ceded. Since the revolution, a key and politically divisive issue is whether the country should move toward further sociopolitical and economic integration with the European Union or remain allied primarily with Russia. Within this debate, LGBTI rights have become a political football as an empowered LGBTI constituency is allegedly seen to signify Western cultural assimilation and influence. For example, the country recently voted down a Schengen-visa agreement in which members of Parliament used LGBTI provisions within the greater accords as a red herring to block the treaty’s ratification. As a result, the LGBTI community has been cast as a scapegoat for right-wing Ukrainian nationalists and the Eastern Orthodox Church, who claim that expanded LGBTI representation is anti-Ukrainian. Motta’s coupling of patriots and citizens in his title highlights such misguided claims, but the exhibition’s politics hang on his use of the term lovers.

In this context, lovers can be read as a nod to the contested relationships between nonheteronormative people, but it references much more. The idea of loving thy neighbor is not only at the core of many notions of civility, it is also an idea seeded deep in the soil of intersectional struggle. In his speeches and sermons, Martin Luther King Jr. often used the word agape to describe a love that “does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes.” This love—or said another way, this compassionate admiration for shared collective difference—is at the core of King’s philosophy of nonviolence and social well-being. In light of the bigoted rhetoric recently used by demagogues to hijack and obfuscate the democratic process not only in Ukraine but also in the United States (as exemplified by the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz), Motta’s work reminds us once again to take up the banner of love as a patriotic duty.

Adam Kleinman