Moving the needle Meduza marks six months as a ‘foreign agent’ with a special photo shoot

October 20 marks exactly seven years since Meduza’s launch. And October 23 will mark six months since our newsroom was labeled a “foreign agent.” We at Meduza consider this status discriminatory and unlawful — and we’ve strived to draw our readers’ attention to the impact of ending up on Russia’s “foreign agent” registry. In this endeavor, we’ve had the help of many contemporary artists. Most recently, a well-known, international fashion photographer who goes by the pseudonym Zoi shot photos of Meduza’s “foreign agent” merch. Meduza employees and their friends also took part in the shoot. Here are the results.

Fashion photographer Zoi, on his inspiration for the photo shoot:

“I don’t like what’s happening with the ‘foreign agents.’ It contradicts my system of values in life. I travel around Russia a lot and talk with a wide variety of people. Many don’t understand what ‘foreign agent’ status is. They perceived those who received it as ‘enemies of the people.’ It’s important to try and tell them how this actually works.

People associated with ‘foreign agent’ status in one way or another (at least those who I saw on set), are lively, brave, they aren’t embittered, they haven’t lost their taste for life or the ability to joke around. For me, these are noble heroes, the heroes of my story. With this shoot, I’m showing them respect. And I want to show that behind the status of ‘foreign agent’ are individuals, they have faces and stories.”

“Of course, this text — [the mandatory disclaimer] ‘THIS MESSAGE WAS CREATED AND/OR DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR…’ — is also important. This idiotic restriction is akin to shackles or a ‘black mark.’ I’m a bit of a punk and an anarchist at heart, I often want to do the exact opposite. So during the shoot I paid great attention to this text, I exaggerated it.

There are problems that we rarely discuss publicly. For example, domestic violence. In Russia, one such problem is the existence of ‘foreign agents.’ The more often people discuss these topics, think about them, the more likely the situation will move the needle. In other words, everything that we’ve done is a way to start dialogue.”

Meduza photo editor Katya Balaban on the photo shoot: 

“With the ‘foreign agent’ label, the government points out undesirables and instills fear in others. It’s almost impossible to fight against the assignment of ‘foreign agent’ status using legal methods. But we can definitely influence attitudes towards it. This can also be done through contemporary art and fashion. 

The fashion shoot of Meduza’s merch done by Zoi captures the artificial reality that the government is imposing on us. It’s trying to divide us by singling out a group of so-called ‘foreign agents.’ This new social construct, ‘foreign agent,’ is surreal and lifeless. And the text — ‘THIS MESSAGE WAS CREATED AND/OR DISTRIBUTED BY A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR ETC.” — is an absurd set of letters that’s littering the environment more and more.

It’s great when there are works in which artists, photographers, and designers think about this problem. In doing so, they bring it into the public square, find new ways to talk about it, and dispel fears.”  

You can find answers to all of your questions about Meduza’s merch here and browse our new merchandise store (in Russian) here. If you’d rather make a direct donation, we accept those too! Short on cash? Signing the petition to demand the repeal of Russia’s “foreign agent” legislation is free. Thanks for your support! 🖤

We won’t give up Because you’re with us

I’m with you, Meduza
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