Monday, August 14, 2017

Discovering Artem Kolesov

The short version:

I hope you can find the time to listen to a young Russian who sums up his life so far in seventeen minutes. Here.

The longer version:

Those of us who live in the modern world like to think that the battle against homophobia is pretty much won. We measure the rights of LGBT people on a Guttman scale, where each advance implies previous advances. Agreement with any item implies agreement with lower-order items. First you have the right not to be bullied; then the right to rent an apartment and hold a job; then the right to have your partnerships recognized short of marriage; then the right to marry but not adopt children; and finally the right to full marriage equality, including the right to adopt. In countries like the United States, where the full marriage equality has become the law of the land, you can pretty much assume LGBT people have achieved their full civil rights, and that means all the other hurdles have been jumped, as well. Polls show that approval of LGBT people generally has shot up from very low numbers to the overwhelming majority in the past couple of decades. Using same-sex marriage as the final item on this Guttman scale of gay rights, we recognize that there has been a sea change in acceptance of homosexuality, and many gay people who insist on dwelling on examples of homophobia are accused of beating a dead horse. You can now marry in some twenty-five countries and have that marriage recognized in several more.

Unfortunately, it’s not beating a dead horse to point out that there are still places in the world where gay rights have yet to even enter the scale at all. Russia is one of those places. Not only in places like Chechnya are gays actively persecuted, but in the whole of Putin’s Russia there is a law against “propagandizing” in favor of gay rights. If you speak publicly about homosexuality as a positive thing where children can hear you, for example, you could go to jail. And as gay people who live in Russia can tell you, that lack of support for gay people brings out the bullies. Just as people living in places where the traditionalist authoritarian churches, whether Roman Catholic, Evangelical or Mormon, hold sway, gays have much to fear in exposing their sexual orientation because the bullies take their cues and “display their virtue” as social enforcers. This includes many people who feel homosexual urges within themselves, unfortunately, and go out “fag-bashing” to demonstrate to themselves and others that they are not like “those perverts.”

Artem Kolesov
I came across the story of one such victim of homophobic oppression in Russia the other day and, with apologies to friends and others who see this as beating a dead horse, I want to call attention to that story here. I have become fascinated – and charmed – by a young man named Artem Kolesov and by the uplifting way he illustrates not just that there is still work to do in the long slog toward gay liberation, but that young people can still persuade the older generation that there is hope.

Тhe Russian name Artyom (Артём) - accent on the second syllable - which has an English equivalent (and is actually the original Greek name) Artemis, has a bunch of affectionate diminutives: Artemyushka, Artya, Artyunya, Tyunya, Tyusha, Artyomka, Artyomchik, Tyoma, and Artyosha.

It's the name of this 23-year old kid I just discovered on YouTube. He's an up-and-coming concert violinist, currently studying music in Chicago. He goes by the name “Artem” in English (accent on the first syllable).

He caught my attention first not because of his musical skills, but because he made what I would call the coming-out video of all coming-out videos. His mother and father are among 2000 members of the Russian Pentecostal Church – both were pastors in the church – and the harm that some sects of organized Christianity have done to so many LGBT people was done to Artem in spades. The video is seventeen minutes long, but it's worth watching closely. Bring a couple handkerchiefs.

Because his story gripped me hard, I decided to dig around for more information on this kid. OK, he's not a kid anymore; he's now 23. But to me he's still got all the appeal of a brilliant young man of many talents. Not only is he clearly musically gifted; he's also highly articulate and has a gift for language in both English and Russian. He managed to get out from under the homophobia of his homeland when one of his older brothers (he is the fourth of six boys in the family), who happened to be living in Nova Scotia, played a video for someone at Dalhousie University in Halifax, which led to a scholarship for Artem to come there to study music. I have to admit that since Nova Scotia is a second home to me and I have a much-loved cousin living in Halifax, this fact only increased my sense of connection. Whether he came highly skilled in English, or acquired his now near-native fluency in North American English in Halifax, he has used that skill to publicize himself by means of a number of video-blogs, which I believe people today who are not alte kakers call vlogs.

A side note here. Many of my friends fuss over the invasion of privacy the social media era has brought about.  Search for a schedule of flights to Bismark, North Dakota, say, and you are likely to be bombarded for weeks afterwards with ads from airlines and travel agencies. But where old folk find the erosion of privacy a scary thing, young people are often only too happy to post not only what they have for lunch on Face Book, but pictures of themselves eating it, naming all their friends in the photo.

So if you're feeling some old fogey feelings about now, and want to criticize my publication of what I've dug up on this young man, forget it. I'm working almost entirely with information Artem has been happy to share with the world. And, I must say, I'm delighted he did. I'm delighted to add my name to his list of fans. Hope you will be too.

If you go to Artem's blog, “Artemus Prime,” and click on videos, you will find 22 links at present. Some go back a year; he’s been doing this for a while.

His latest has him talking about his DNA.

Here’s a video of him singing the Elvis Presley song, Can’t Help Falling in Love, and accompanying  himself on the piano. 

And here’s another of him singing a Spanish love song, El Libro de la Vida, accompanying himself on the guitar.  Clearly his musicality extends way beyond his talent for the violin.

But if you want to do them all from the beginning, you can start with what he has labeled his first, on May 18th, 2016 (published May 22), where he reveals that he is in Chicago, studying at the Chicago College of Performing Arts. He’s in a string quartet and they are about to make the first of two trips to China on May 26th to compete in the Alice and Eleonore Schoenfeld International String Competition, a video of which is available here. He then does a quick tour of a couple of his favorite places in Chicago. When he gets to the water, he talks about missing Halifax.

What follows is a number of vlogs about his China trips: #2, at the airport, heading for China and then in the hotel in Beijing; #3, in Shenyang, Chicago’s sister city; #4, traveling to Jinan, a city of 700 natural springs; #5, exploring Jinan and commenting on pollution; #6, heading back to the U.S.; #7, hiking in Colorado; and #8, competing in Harbin, flying back to China.

The YAS Quartet is made up of Titilayo Ayangade, cello; Artem Kolesov, violin; John Heffernan, violin; and Yufan Zhang, viola. They have a Face Book page and look like a bunch of kids you'd like to bring home and introduce to mama. No luck so far in finding out what YAS stands for. 

To digress and go back to Dalhousie University for a minute, here he is in St. James Dunn Theater in the Arts Centre at Dalhousie, I believe, giving his graduation concert there.  It’s a two hour video. His piece begins about 17 minutes in.

After his run of vlogs 1 through 8, he takes a couple months off and then begins message vlogging in earnest. His first in this new undertaking is titled: Don’t be ‘that kind’ of believer.” In it he talks about the death of his oldest brother and the cruel comments his mother had to endure from their church. They actually suggested Artem’s brother died because of the sins their mother had committed. The cruelty in the family Pentecostal Church their family attended which later figures in his coming out tape is already present here.  

The next video is a total total treat: “Things I get asked as a Russian.

He then waxes lyrical in a lovely piece entitled, “Love Is. 

Next follows a sarcastic message to America on the election of Trump, “Trigger Warning” 

And then another sarcastic piece, more powerful this time, where he has at the organized church and their twisted message of Christ, “Bad Christian.” 

The video that started my preoccuption with this wonderful gay activist, the coming-out video, is available here.

He then produces a follow-up, a few months later.   In this one, also in Russian, he apologizes if his Russian is not up to snuff. He explains that in the past nine years he has used only English 99% of the time. He also tells his audience that he cannot use the standard Russian translation for “straight” (normalnii) because it equates heterosexuality with “normal.” He speaks to his fellow Christians, particularly, and urges everybody to speak out against homophobia.

He then does three “Bible Lessons,” explaining how the Bible-thumpers who quote scripture to shame gay people could use a bit more bible study: 1- Sodom; 2 – Leviticus; 3 – New Testament .

To sum it up, Artem is a remarkable young man. Not just for his talent as a concert violinist, but for overcoming some serious odds – a mother who believed he needed an MRI to root out the problem of his homosexuality, a brother who died when he was young and another who won’t accept him as gay even now. But he would appear to illustrate the notion that if the fire doesn’t burn you, it can temper your steel.

And he's had some lucky breaks, as well. Being able to study violin with Almita Vamos and at Roosevelt College in Chicago, for one. And when Carol and Rob Schickel learned that he had run out of money and had nowhere to stay, they invited him in to live with them. It's from their living room that he made the coming-out video.

And although I've been unable to scratch up any details, apparently he has fallen in love and married. In San Francisco, yet!

At 23 I was still in the closet, even to myself. Those were some dark ages. Artem's coming out to the world marks considerable progress for LGBT people. He shows you you can ride out the bumps in the road, grab hold of life and make it work for you.

It helps, no doubt, if you can wow the world with a stringed instrument. And if you have Canada at your back.

But speaking out is something anybody – everybody – can do.

Way to go, Artem!

Photo credits:

photo of Artem
Violin and rainbow


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