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(FULLY BOOKED) Mother Tongue/ Родная речь: Panel Discussion with Yevgeniy Fiks, Prof Sarah Wilson, Juliet Jacques, and Prof Dan Healey

Still from Thematic Language/Тематический Язык

Still from Thematic Language/Тематический Язык

Join us for a panel discussion with artist Yevgeniy Fiks in conversation with Professor Sarah Wilson, Juliet Jacques, and Professor Dan Healey, to mark the opening of our next exhibition Mother Tongue/ Родная речь which will take place on the same day from 7pm - 8.30pm.

The panel will focus on historical gay Russian argot - the theme of this exhibition. This coded language dates back to Soviet times and can be compared to Britain’s ‘polari’ jargon.

About the exhibition

 Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь is the first London solo exhibition by New York-based Russian artist Yevgeniy Fiks.

Through this exhibition Fiks elevates this ‘themed’ language into a poetic code, celebrating its wit and nuance.  Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь reclaims and celebrates Soviet-era Russian gay argot as a unique cultural phenomenon and gives a historical context to today’s post-Soviet LGBTQ community whose language partially evolved from it. 

The exhibition takes the form of an installation, recreating the environment of a classroom, equipped with a black board, alphabet charts, texts books, and a language instructional video, designed as formal introduction to the vocabulary and usage of the argot.

Photograph from the series 'Moscow' showing 'pleshki' or cruising sites.

Soviet era pleshki - or cruising sites - are presented in a series of photographs of Moscow, empty of people - many of them famous tourist destinations – subverting standard perceptions of the city. Fiks envisions the 'language of the pleshka' as a complete and distinct language, separate from standard Russian.

A semi-humorous instruction video gives a lesson in how to use and construct phrases from this ‘themed’ language. Like polari, Soviet gay slang contributed to the sense of the separate identity of queer communities of the time, and allowed users to communicate openly about things that could have seen them excluded from mainstream society, or even imprisoned; thus it was a defense mechanism that provided safety.

The exhibition is accompanied by the recently published Mother Tongue/ Родная Речь a book by Fiks, both about, and written in, Soviet-era Russian gay argot.


This exhibition is organised by Pushkin House in collaboration with GRAD.


Yevgeniy Fiks was born in Moscow in 1972 and has been living and working in New York since 1994. Fiks has produced many projects on the subject of the Post-Soviet dialog in the West, among them: “Lenin for Your Library?” in which he mailed V.I. Lenin’s text "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” to one hundred global corporations as a donation for their corporate libraries; “Communist Party USA,” a series of portraits of current members of Communist Party USA, painted from life in the Party’s national headquarters in New York City; and “Communist Guide to New York City,” a series of photographs of buildings and public places in New York City that are connected to the history of the American Communist movement. Fiks’ work has been shown internationally. This includes exhibitions in the United States at Winkleman and Postmasters galleries (both in New York) Mass MoCA, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Marat Guelman Gallery in Moscow; Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City, and the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon. His work has been included in the Biennale of Sydney (2008), Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art (2011), and Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art (2015).


Professor Sarah Wilson is an art historian, curator and writer. Her global art interests are informed by specialism in postwar and Cold War Europe and the USSR. In 2015, she was co-curator and curator for the academic forum of the 1st Asian Biennale / 5th Guangzhou Triennale, Guanzhou, China.

She was educated at the University of Oxford (English Literature) and at the Courtauld where she took her MA and Ph.D degrees. In 1997 she was awarded the title Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for services to French art and culture. In 2015 she was the recipient of International Association of Art Critics’ Award for Distinguished Contribution to Art Criticism. She is a Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Sarah’s major publications include : Paris, Capital of the Arts,1900-1968 (Royal Academy, 2002), a substantial livre–catalogue and the standard publication on the subject, and The Visual World of French Theory: Figurations. A second volume: The Visual World of French Theory II: interventions (in preparation) will challenge the ‘Figurations‘ volume, with an emphasis on conceptual art, performance and film.


Juliet Jacques is a freelance writer, best known for the Guardian’s “Transgender Journey”—the first time the gender reassignment process had been serialised for a major British publication. Her column was longlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2011. She was included in the Independent’s Pink List for 2012, 2013 and 2014, and is a regular contributor to the New Statesman. She has also written for GrantaTimeOutFilmwaves3am, the London Review of Books, the New Humanist, the New Inquiry, and many other publications. She lives in London.


Dan Healey is Professor of Modern Russian History at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is the author of several books and articles on modern Russia including a history of homosexuality in tsarist and Soviet Russia, and is currently researching a book on the history of medicine in Stalin’s Gulag camps, to be published by Yale University Press.