At the intersection of art and journalism, DIK Fagazine explores the dust-covered archives of queer histories in Europe and revives the forgotten memories of gay pioneers.
DIK Fagazine is a unique project which combines art, design, and queer journalism. So far, it is the only art magazine tackling the issues of masculinity and gay communities in Eastern and Central Europe. Originally based in Poland, it nevertheless gained a big following even outside Europe, and with its every issue it opens a new door to the queer communities of the iron-curtained past, presenting an invaluable source of authentic experience and spirit of those times. We caught up with its founder and editor-in-chief, Polish artist Karol Radziszewski, to talk about DIK’s beginnings, the concept of a fagazine and the freshest, newest issue. Read on!
DIK Fagazine was founded in 2005 which makes it 12 years old now, a fresh teenager. What was the impulse for the creation of this project? Looking back at the initial idea, could you give us a little retrospective view concerning the way it has developed over the years?
The gay magazines available on the Polish market at the time were limited to either pornography combined with personal ads, or politically-involved publications geared towards activists in the country’s burgeoning LGBT movement. I was looking for a magazine that wasn’t about one or the other. A magazine that talked about art as much as it did about masculinity and homosexuality. A magazine about the here and now in Poland and about things that mattered to me. One that would use the word “fag” rather than “gay.” That’s how the concept of DIK Fagazine was born. The first issue came out in March 2005, accompanied by a wild launch party at Warsaw’s Centre for Contemporary Art. News of the magazine spread widely, but its popularity didn’t translate into sales. It turned out that our readership at the time was no more than a handful of people, at least in Poland. Luckily things went much better abroad, and DIK was soon available in most capital cities, including the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and New York’s Printed Matter. In that way DIK became a source of information for Western readers about fag life in Central and Eastern Europe. Subsequent issues featured interviews with artists, authors, prominent names in culture, as well as ordinary guys. We talked to artists such as Wilhelm Sasnal, Artur Żmijewski, Katarzyna Kozyra, and Zbigniew Libera, and they were eager to have their work printed in our magazine. One issue explored the topic of Polish nationalism, while another was devoted to hip-hop culture and street art. Two special monographic issues were the result of our crazy trips: one entirely devoted to Ukraine and the other to Romania. Peculiarity and locality are what interests us the most.
Poland, your homeland, is traditionally known for upholding pretty conservative, Christian values. Have you ever experienced antagonism towards you/your work there?
Polish society is very homophobic indeed, which is connected directly with the Church propaganda. Recently, it is visible and much stronger as the government and ruling party are openly homophobic and misogynistic. My work is considered controversial and not welcome by everyone of course but still present in the public institutions’ program. Although, it will rather end very soon since the government forces an “anti-queer” and “anti-gender” directives.
DIK Fagazine has characteristically strong visuals and beautifully stylized layout. Was that for you, as an artist, a crucial element when creating the concept of this magazine?
I definitely wanted to have the magazine that combines both – interesting content and intriguing form. So from the very beginning we were experimenting with the design. First Monika Zawadzki was conceptually playing with a text and created our distinctive logo, then Martin Falck, a great Swedish designer brilliantly redesigned the whole layout and DIK’s style. And the recently published Croatian issue No. 10 was guest-designed by the amazing Rafaela Drazic.
A lot of the magazine’s issues deal with their subject from an almost historiographic perspective. Where did this approach come from?
The magazine gradually evolved from a periodical addressing the current situation in Poland and the Central and Eastern European region, to a platform exploring queer archives that is determined to discover our “queer ancestors”. In 2008, I began work on an almost three-year-long project that was a special issue entirely focusing on the life of homosexuals in Central and Eastern Europe before 1989. In the process of researching sources and traveling, I reached many people whom I interviewed. From the outset, it was important for me to confront the Polish experience with that of our neighbours, to sketch a wider panorama of the region.
The latest issues of DIK had a pretty specific setting, dealing with the era before ’89 in Central and Eastern Europe and Czechoslovakia respectively. Why did you decide to investigate this time period (and places)?
For some time now DIK has been interested in archives, history, and the search for queer tropes of the past. While working on the issue No. 8 “BEFORE ’89”, I travelled across almost all of Central and Eastern Europe. Czechoslovakia, however, seemed to me like the most tolerant country in the region, and the least unknown, and that’s why I neglected it a bit at the time. And I decided to issue a monograph afterwards.
Because of the political regime at that time, queer people had to remain in hiding and lot of the cultural dynamics of these communities would take place deep under ground. Is it hard to dig out the personal stories and historical accounts? How do you find your contributors?
My work rarely involves visits to libraries; I prefer to focus on direct contact with the witnesses to events and gather their memories. Typically, I would first meet local activists, who would give me information about people I could potentially talk to, and they often suggested new avenues where I could find further material.
One of the amazing things about DIK is that it features a large number of extremely interesting interviews. I reckon that since you have spent some time with your interviewees, you gained some insight into the queer communities of the previous decades. Could you compare the past and the contemporary queer?
It’s really hard to generalize as there were different groups at that time and there are diverse groups and definitely bigger scene now. My impression is that our “queer ancestors” revealed a great potential for positive energy, irony (even towards such taboo subjects as AIDS) and most of all self-irony, which today’s LGBTQ activists often miss.
The topic of this month’s issue is body. Is the notion of body reflected in your work in some ways? Do you think there is a difference in understanding the body within queer context?
The body and its representation is a big issue within the queer context and a lot could and should be said. In DIK Fagazine I’m trying to present diverse bodies and avoiding gay clichés about “perfection”. In the recent issue you can see Tomislav Gotovac’s “Foxy Mister” photo series where he is posing as a pin-up girl. Straight artist is presenting his old, not really attractive naked body, posing as a girl from a porn magazine. Very explicit and critical at the same time.
After quite a long break you just released a new issue. What is it about?
The issue No. 10 is called “Zagreb – Queering the Museum” and it’s a result of my trip to Croatia and the residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb. To do my research I moved into the museum’s building for a month, staying in a room adjacent to the archive. I decided to carry out a little investigation by using a tested method – if you don’t know, ask somebody. Hence, the series of interviews that the current issue consists of. Out of these conversations, beside a lot of stories about Yugoslavian art and artists, emerged a fragmentary portrait of a great absent figure, Davor Maticević, a charismatic director of the museum who died of AIDS. In a way, he became the main character of this issue.
And the issue No. 11 came out just right now. It’s a special, bilingual (English-French) edition published on the occasion of the “Communist Homosexuality (1945-1989)” international conference in Paris. It’s DIK’s “the very best of” as it comprises a selection of previously published interviews, texts and archival photos, as well as new materials.
We’re always looking for an opportunity to support fresh artists and creators. Is there anyone you think we should feature on Kink?
You should check out young artists from Belarus, like Sergey Shabohin, Zhanna Gladko, Aleksey Naumchik.
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