Visiting The Surprising City Picked for EuroPride

The Latvian capital is a surprising choice for the pan-European LGBT Pride celebration, but locals and organizers have high hopes that the positive impact will be long-lasting.


Riga’s parade marchers, accompanied by police and protesters in 2009.


Seventy LGBT activists took to the streets of Riga on July 22, 2005. They were met by thousands of protesters. If the message of the council hadn’t been clear before, the protesters were clarifying now: Homosexuality had no place in Latvia.
Tensions escalated and an overwhelmed and underprepared police force formed a protective ring around the participants and altered the parade’s route. As things turned violent, members of a nearby Anglican church offered the parade participants sanctuary. They waited there for hours while the police attempted to clear the crowd. When they eventually emerged through a back door, they were pelted with eggs and vegetables by defiant protesters.
Latvia’s first and only LGBT organization, Mozaika, was born out of the homophobia experienced that day. Since then, its members have persevered and transformed Riga Pride into an annual event, one which now attracts thousands of participants. Though it still faces vocal opposition and repeated attempts to ban it, protester enthusiasm has dwindled to the extent that only a few hundred bothered counter-demonstrating in 2014.
It’s a sign of progress, but the reality is that the annual festivities of Pride are a brief hiatus from the closet for the country’s LGBT community. Latvia remains a deeply conservative society, one influenced by its powerful Russian neighbors and religious tradition. With homophobia still rampant, LGBT visibility is negligible. Those who are out in public face marginalization, verbal abuse, and violence.
This June, 10 years after that first march, EuroPride will parade through the capital in all its feathered glory. It could be the catalyst to change that Latvia’s LGBT community so desperately needs.
We’re not allowed to go into [Russia] without getting arrested for being who we are, so of course [EuroPride is] the next best thing we can do,” says De Meyer. “It’s not only Latvia; if you look at what happened last year in Baltic Pride and the difficulties they had organizing it in Vilnius, Lithuania, the country next door, it’s exactly the same thing. There’s still this Russian influence that plays a part in the acceptance of LGBT rights.
In the three years since Riga won the bid, the situation has worsened in Russia and other ex–Soviet states. Belarus and Lithuania have considered implementing their own bans on homosexual propaganda, while Ukraine has experienced a string of high-profile homophobic attacks from various neo-Nazi factions. The need to march in Eastern Europe has only intensified.
The decision to award EuroPride to Riga prompted outward reactions from both camps in Latvia — celebrations from Mozaika, condemnation from conservatives. But the response from Latvia’s wider LGBT population was conspicuous by its absence.
When EuroPride hits Riga, it’s unlikely to attract anywhere near the numbers experienced by events in Italy, Spain, or the U.K. But its legacy could be far greater. As LGBT rights progress, as the fight for equality succeeds, the meaning of Pride shifts — from demonstration to celebration. The defiant marches become victory parades, a tribute to all those who fought for equality and won. In June this year, when the parade through Riga follows in the footsteps of 70 activists a decade ago, we may just witness that transformation firsthand.

Comprehensive Exhibition of Tom of Finland | 13th June | NYC





Tom of Finland: The Pleasure of Play

The Pleasure of Play will be the most comprehensive Tom of Finland survey exhibition to date, including more than 190 drawings, gouaches from the 1940s, over 300 pages of collages, as well as early childhood work.

Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen; Finnish; 1920, Kaarina – 1991, Helsinki), is considered to be the most iconic gay artist of the 20th century. 25 years after his death, the wide-reaching cultural impact of his work, in comparison to his global status, has only been infrequently presented, examined or discussed. 

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 - 1991) Untitled, 1963, Graphite on paper, 13.63" x 8.44", Tom of Finland Permanent Collection, © 1963 Tom of Finland Foundation

TOM OF FINLAND (Touko Laaksonen, Finnish, 1920 – 1991) Untitled, 1963, Graphite on paper, 13.63″ x 8.44″, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, © 1963 Tom of Finland Foundation

Tom of Finland’s biography parallels pivotal moments of 20th century (gay-) history, bearing witness to the disasters, the turmoil and the radical changes that took place during his lifetime. Indeed, his work stands in dialectical relationship to these events and the often oppressive culture that surrounded him. Starting from an early age, Tom played with the iconographic conventions upon which both the representation and the very conception of masculinity are based. His emblematic, larger-than-life drawn phalluses not only threaten the existing symbolic order of heterosexuality, but also reorganize the principles by which (homo-)sexual desires are structured. His fearless portrait of sexuality can also be read as a portrait of the sadomasochistic relationship that is at play between culture and sub-culture itself, an aspect that is as much present in his work, as it runs through gay culture of the  20th and 21st centuries, as well as through his own biography.

A child of teachers, Tom grew up in rural Finland. At age 19 he enrolled in a distance learning advertising course. Soon drafted, he joined the Finnish Army in its fight against the Soviet invasion. After the war he stayed in Helsinki studying classical piano at the renowned Sibelius Academy. While at the Academy, he worked as freelance graphic designer, becoming later senior art director at the Helsinki branch of the global ad agency McCann Erickson. In 1973, after 17 years with the firm, he quit to be able to focus entirely on his own work. In the late 1970s, on one of his frequent visits to the US, he met Durk Dehner, with whom he founded Tom of Finland Foundation in 1984, based in Echo Park, Los Angeles.

Because of Tom of Finland’s compound status as artist and pop icon, his work has been admired by artists for many years. Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial jumpstarted Tom’s international career in 1957; Robert Mapplethorpe helped him get his first major gallery exhibition in New York in 1980; Mike Kelley invited Tom to speak at CalArts in 1988; Raymond Pettibon became a lifetime supporter of Tom of Finland Foundation; as did Richard Hawkins, who continues to work with the Foundation today.
Leading exhibition support provided by: The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, through its Curatorial Fellowship Program; The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation; Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, through its Mobius Fellowship Program; David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles; and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin. 

Tom of Finland Exhibition Supporters Circle: Philip Aarons & Shelley Fox-Aarons, Shane Akeroyd, Beth Rudin DeWoody, Nicoletta Fiorucci (Fiorucci Art Trust, London), Greene Naftali Gallery, Wade Guyton, Michaeljohn Horne, Robert Longo, Bjarne Melgaard, John Morace & Tom Kennedy, Lari Pittman, Jack Shear, Cindy Sherman, Brent Sikkema, Danh Vo, Jordan Wolfson, Mark Grotjahn & Jennifer Guidi, Ingar Dragset & Michael Elmgreen, Robert Gober & Donald Moffett.

Special thanks to Stefan Kalmár, John Morace and Richard Hawkins.

Founded in 1972, in Downtown New York, Artists Space has for four decades successfully contributed to changing the landscape for contemporary art – lending support to emerging artists and emerging ideas alike.

38 Greene Street, 3rd Floor and 55 Walker Street
Opening reception will be held from 6:00pm until 8:00pm

Hours: Wednesday – Sunday: Noon – 6:00pm
On view till 23rd August