Yulia Tsvetkova

  • Name: Yulia Tsvetkova
  • Discipline: Visual and theater artist
  • Country: Russia
  • Threat(s): Arrest, prosecution
  • When: November 2019–present
  • Current Status: On trial

Yulia Tsvetkova is a visual artist and theater director from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, in Russia’s Far East region. Tsvetkova’s work often engages LGBTQIA+ and feminist themes, including frank examinations of the female body. This work, along with her activism and educational efforts on behalf of the LGBTQIA+ community, eventually drew the attention of the authorities in Russia, where homophobia runs rampant and the dissemination of “gay propaganda” is prohibited by law. After Tsvetkova created two LGBTQIA-themed social media pages that featured artwork by women and promoted female empowerment and body positivity, the authorities charged her with “production and dissemination of pornographic materials,” which could result in a sentence of up to six years in prison.

From the Artist:

“Never underestimate what may happen. Art is so important, and governments understand that. They're so afraid of freedom of choice, of thought, that they would do anything to stop it. So remember how important your art is.”

When I discovered activist theater, that is when art began to make sense to me. With art, we can change something in the world and its people. But the criminal charges pretty much stopped my entire life. All my work, all my projects, all my plans, thoughts—all of that was ruined. I can compare it to a car crash. You drive, and the crash happens, and you are there in ruins, and it's very hard to do something. 

I was charged with pornography distribution, and after that they searched my house and my mom's workplace. We had to be searched in the most private places. I didn't have much legal support back then. I didn't have a lawyer. They give you a so-called state lawyer, who pretty much does nothing.

I reached out to some of the people I knew from my activist past—feminist and LGBTQIA+ activists. People offered to find me a lawyer, and a journalist came, too. When I see people who are kind, who are strong, who are brave, that helps me to go through all the nightmares. I think what's even more important for me: when people who are not human rights defenders, who are not activists, who do not support human rights globally, speak out. It means a lot when people who are not into politics support you. They speak about why the personal is political, why body positivity is political, and that means a lot. 

I think that a big part of coping is to tell my story over and over and over. In a way, it's hard to live it again and again, but there's something about speaking out that shuts down the thoughts about the policemen, teachers, and people who want to kill me. I don't allow myself to think about the future. So I just live in the here and now, and that is, in a way, a very interesting spiritual experience, like the Zen experience, where you just live in the moment. 

What policemen do is they make you silent. They make you unimportant. They don't hear your voice. Speaking with the media, speaking to journalists, speaking to you right now, it's like becoming myself again. I think when journalists become silent, that is the beginning of the end. When art becomes silent, it's the beginning of the end. When artists don't succumb to threats and fear, when they fight for freedom of speech, for freedom of thought, they are heroes. I think people who are doing that in Russia right now are heroes.