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A Former Orthodox Rabbi Reveals Himself Through Taboo Sexual Art

Russian artist Vartan explores his identity in the artistic realm through powerful mystical sculptures.
November 19, 2015, 2:50pm
Boris Pasternak. All images courtesy the artist

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A young boy made out of plaster sits in an unnatural and vulnerable position, knees splayed and hands clutching his heels from behind. He is naked except for a loincloth and a blindfold. A section of his sculpted arm is missing.

This is Eytan, a sculpture by Vartan, a queer former Orthodox Jew from Chechnya whose sculptures and paintings mostly explore demonic and sexual themes. “My work always shows a state of human spirit,” he tells The Creators Project. “Demons and angels, pain and uncontrollable desire, fear and loneliness. The naked body in sculpture represents a spiritual condition. I am not interested in ‘politically correct’ art because it’s boring. Shock, controversy, and honesty. These are the three principles of my art.”


Vartan was born in 1968 to a family of artists in Grozny, a city that was all but destroyed by Russian bombs during the Chechen war of the mid-90s. After graduating from school, Vartan spent a year at the Oil Institute studying geophysics and geology, but soon realized it wasn’t his field. He says, “to become an artist was not solely my decision. I would say it was my destiny.” He studied monumental sculpture and decorative art at the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry, one of the most prestigious art schools in Moscow. In 1997 he moved to Philadelphia, where he was recruited by GM representatives as a designer. Since then, he’s worked at various car companies around the United States designing vehicles (including the Presidential limousine) and making art.


Sculptor and His ModelAfter Bath MasturbationWhite TorsoProphetYom KippurInferno-Night Tears