Demir Demirov: a homosexual Russian artist seeking asylum in Groningen

You may have heard of Russian homophobic propaganda, but how does it actually affect peoples’ lives and how does it feel to live in Russia as a homosexual? For Demir Demirov, his sexual preferences were life changing. What was meant to generate love and openness instead created a wall of fear, desperation, and brought him to the edge of death.

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Part I – Living in fear

For years, Demir has lived his life in fear. He hid his homosexuality from everyone, pretended to be interested in women, and lied to colleagues, friends, and family. He felt different, lonely, and needed distraction. Sometimes after the sun had set he would meet up with men and live his sexuality to the fullest. He had found a way to escape: sex.

However, this did not last long. When he got diagnosed with a third stage HIV there was no escape anymore. He needed medication but couldn’t afford it. He needed support but couldn’t ask for it. Soon the illness took over his condition and physical appearance. His skin looked pale and his gums grey. He looked like a drug addict and was very ill. When it became worse he got fired and a few months after – due to insufficient funds – Demir started to live on the streets. The disease had gone to his bones, as well as his desperation.

Vulnerable and searching for help, he admitted his homosexuality to his family. It was not help that he got. Instead he was thrown back to the streets, rejected by his peers. There was nothing left for him in Russia, only the cold streets of Moscow, his dog, and art. Luckily both contributed to save him. His dog brought him comfort when he was struggling the most and his art allowed him to flee his homophobic home country.

Part II – The way out

By 2015, Demir had produced a wide variety of artwork and started writing requests to galleries.  He prayed for an exhibition. After many unanswered emails the Mooi Man Galerie in Groningen replied. They were ready to exhibit his work in Haarlem. The only thing he had to do was send his certified gay art to the Netherlands. Not an easy task when you live in one of the most homophobic countries in the world. This process was long and exhausting but finally the artwork reached Haarlem. The exhibition was a success and with the money he received he managed to buy a ticket to fly to the Netherlands. Once there, he would seek asylum. In November 2016, with his visa and plane ticket in hand, he left Russia hoping for a new life.

Now Demir Demirov lives in a refugee camp close to Groningen and awaits the regularization of his refugee status. In the end of February the verdict will be given but until then he will get treatments for his HIV, continues to produce art work, and takes care of a hairy best friend: his dog.

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Article by Maéva Mouton

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