Gay Men and the Russian Orthodox Church

Gay Men and the Orthodox Church is a collection of acrylic paintings completed by the artist in 2019. They are images of LGBTQ+ men in leisure poses, wrapped in blankets, rich in color. They have gold enameled halos and Old Church Slavonic inscriptions around them, indicating that they are sacred beings. The style is similar to traditional Russian Orthodox portraits of saints, also known as the “icon”. Icons can be found at religious sites all over Russia.

Ornate images of Jesus and his disciples adorn Orthodox churches all over the Russia. They feature trim silhouettes,  chiseled faces with solemn expressions, and golden halos, often painted in actual gold. One can’t help but notice a homoerotic tone present in much of the imagery. 

Even so, LGBTQ+ individuals in Russia face numerous challenges. Homophobia is a prevailing attitude in many Russian institutions. Western media has attached to this fact, using it to prove superior “tolerance”. This was especially highlighted during the 2014 Winter Olympics. However, in focusing on this aspect of Russian culture, Western media minimizes its own hypocrisy and xenophobia. It downplays the ongoing orientalism of Russian culture by Western audiences. 

The artist Leung plays with the hypocrisy by featuring heavyset LGBTQ+ men in the paintings, a parody of traditional Russian icons. Usually, those figures are draped in robes. However, the artist has chosen to put the robes on the floor, as if casting down tradition to make room for a more content and relaxed existence.