The First International Open Art Festival was held in Moscow on February 2-4, 2018. The Festival was organized by the Moscow Community Centre with the support of the Swedish Institute and CIVIL RIGHTS DEFENDERS, the international human rights organization. The goal of the Festival was to give everyone an opportunity to express themselves through art free of the public opinion, any prejudgments and gender or sex discrimination. The organizers wanted to expand the limits of stereotypical thinking that surrounds us, to show things which our society is used to ignore or even completely deny its existence. The Festival included an exhibition of paintings by Marina Lizorkina, Mari So, Asya Sergievskaya, Rina Chernykh and Elle Gard; the photographic exhibition M2F — Male to Female by Olga Volodina, a collection of comic strips (comics artists: Kürbis17, Martina Schradi, Elle Gard, Elias Ericson, German Alius, Natalia Kim and Lydia) based on real stories shared openly or anonymously. The Festival was home to various workshops, lectures, film screenings and discussions with foreign activists.

The main message of the Festival is the freedom of self-expression regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or mindset. For authors and artists, it is the freedom to create and for the audience – to watch, feel and reflect. All three days of the Festival were distinguished by an atmosphere of lightness and freedom. In particular, there was an ‘open mike’ for visitors who wanted to express themselves, and a ‘wall’ on which they could write or draw a message. On the last day of the exhibition, a performance took place in which all visitors could participate. During the Festival, a tattoo artist made tattoos for anybody who wanted to. Workshops and lectures on different topics were presented by specialists recognized in their field:

A workshop by the photographer Annica Karlsson Rixon about her secrets of photography and her work in Russia

A workshop by the documentary specialists Maddie Edlund and Fina Sandquist including a presentation and discussion of their film

A discussion with the director of the art space СтоловкаXYZ/Canteen XYZ and the organizer of the Queer Culture Festival Dotyk/Touch Ana Lok about her work in Belarus

A workshop by the organizers of the Cinema Queer International Film Festival Oskar Eriksson and Melissa Lindgren who shared their experience in making travelling film shows in Sweden.

The friendly and easy atmosphere of the Festival even spread on to originally negatively predisposed visitors who tried to hinder the event, but, as they entered the territory of free art, they peacefully and calmly watched the performance and spoke to the participants; the organizers hope that this will help them to revise their opinions and to become more tolerant.

The First International Open Art Festival marks the start of a new event format that not only unites an art gallery with a lecture hall, but also plays an educational role for the society in general, by making taboo subjects more open and free for discussion.

The organizers gratefully acknowledge the help and support by their partners and friends from the Swedish Institute and the international human rights organization CIVIL RIGHTS DEFENDERS, and thank all participants, volunteers and visitors for the incredibly warm atmosphere during the Festival.

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