Portraits of (unconventional?) love at iMOCA 

click to enlarge Ted Oonk, "Swimming Pool," from This Is Not About You
  • Ted Oonk, "Swimming Pool," from This Is Not About You

Karla D. Romero, who co-publishes the bilingual (Spanish and English) arts magazine Humanize and curated iMOCA's August exhibitions, says she's bringing in artists Slava Mogutin and Ted Oonk in order to "challenge our city's concepts of love and normality." Both have track records in provocation.

Mogutin, a consistently transgressive New York-based artist and author, fled his native country of Russia at age 21 after being charged by the state with "open and deliberate contempt for generally accepted moral norms" and "malicious hooliganism with exceptional cynicism and extreme insolence." His insolent actions? Being an openly gay journalist and activist, and trying to register the country's first same-sex marriage. After being granted asylum in the U.S., he began to style himself as visual artist, taking his nickname of Slava (meaning "glory" or "knowledge") as his artist's name.

click to enlarge Slava Mogutin, "Sticks + Stoned," from In the Name of Love
  • Slava Mogutin, "Sticks + Stoned," from In the Name of Love

His iMOCA show, In the Name of Love, consists of photographs by Mogutin that address his relationship with his partner, Brian Kenny, plus multi-layered drawings created by Mogutin and Kenny. Mogutin's work has been exhibited at MoMA PS1 in New York City, the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo in Spain - and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

The Thailand-born, Belgium-based Oonk has been shooting portraits of her sister, Pim, who has Down Syndrome, since 2006. Her installation featuring Pim that's destined for iMOCA turns the reader-response theory on its solipsistic head with its title, "This Is Not About You #2." She told copypasteculture.com that she's trying to "challenge dominant ideas about disabled people and the way they are depicted" through her work, which has been featured at prominent photography festivals in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Both shows were commissioned by iMOCA and supported in large part by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts. Romero, who moved to Indy with her magazine last year, says she "had only one idea" in her head when she put the shows together: she wanted them to be "photographic." She says she riffled through Humanize's back issues - issue 21, published in July, features Oonk - and hit upon an "incredible self-portrait" of Mogutin in issue five. "For a multitude of reasons, I knew I had to show his work in Indianapolis," she says.

Oonk came to be included in a more roundabout way, according to Romero: "I was browsing through the website of Self Publish, Be Happy, a wonderful organization that promotes independently made photography books, and I came across one of Ted Oonk's photographs. It was the portrait of her sister with pink face cream. I clicked through to her personal site and saw her work - and wow, what intensity! What talent! I couldn't resist."

Romero says she anticipates that the show will trigger controversy, but she hopes it leads to "intelligent," not "hateful" discussions. "It's hard for me to make a general statement about how the city will respond to the exhibitions, mostly because I don't find it challenging at all," she says. "What's normal and comfortable is up to each individual person."

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