The exhibition Pleshka-Birobidzhan engages the relationship between identity, fiction, and history by recreating an oral story about a group of Soviet gay men who travelled from Moscow to Birobidzhan in 1934 into an art installation. The oral story is set in 1934 soon after homosexuality was recriminalized in the Soviet Union and after the Soviet Jewish Autonomous Region, of which Birobidzhan became the capital, was established.
The exhibition reenacts this Soviet gay oral story in a series of artworks that comprises the exhibition. This includes a series of 17 collages titled Pleshka-Birobidzhan which starts the narration. The collages depict gay men at several gay cruising sites a.k.a. pleshkas in 1934 discussing the recriminalization of homosexuality under Stalin as a failure of the October Revolution, the creation of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Soviet Far East, and a dream of a gay Soviet utopia. The collages also depict the journey of a group of disillusioned gay men in fear of persecution to Birobidzhan, where upon their arrival found themselves in the middle of the Gay and Lesbian Autonomous Region -- which appeared to exist alongside and at times overlapped with of the Soviet Jewish Utopia there.
In a video installation titled, Cruising Birobidzhan, Fiks juxtaposes images of official propaganda photographs of Soviet-era Birobidzhan with an audio discussion set in New York City in 2016 featuring post-Soviet LGBTQIs about the (im)possibility of “queer” or “gay” utopia against the background of the real history of Birobidzhan.
In a drawing titled, A Map of Birobidzhan, Fiks maps the Jewish Autonomous Region and replaces the names of villages and cities with names of historical queer left-wing icons such as Angela Davis, Harry Hay, and Bayard Rustin. The installation also includes Street-signs for streets, avenues, and squares of the imagined utopian Gay and Lesbian Autonomous Region, named after figures of Soviet and post-Soviet gay and lesbian history such as Yevgeny Kharitonov, Igor Kon, and Roman Kalinin.
The exhibition includes Soviet Moscow’s Yiddish-Gay Dictionary edited by Fiks and published by the Cicada Press. The exhibition will include a performance in the form of a reading of excerpts from the 1926 Yiddish edition of Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis by Actor Shane Baker. The performance will be held on Saturday, November 19th at 6 pm.