Misha MN is a self titled butch queen, queer femme Godess… he wants to be worshipped.
Through the fascinating ideology of Queer Spiritualities, he explores his own unique perspective of the LGBTQ community through costume design, symbolism and photography.
Misha’s view of gender, sexuality and religion is presented through his self-made book entitled Lost Boys. Here, Misha shares his colourful character and artistic knowledge with us.
Proudly acknowledged for its LGBTQ community and home to one of the biggest pride festivals in the country, you only have to walk the streets of Brighton to see why.
It’s 2pm when my train arrives, and the sunshine is out in full force. As I leave the station, I’m absorbed in vibrant rainbow flags and the freedom of expressive faces and kaleidoscopic clothing.
I’m making my way to meet Misha on the pier, because have you really been to Brighton if you haven’t been to the pier? We’ve only spoken via email at this point, and the picture I’d seen of him was long gone from the memory bank.
As I stand there getting increasingly more anxious, a medium sized but quite broad build, stubbly-faced man approaches me – his memory clearly better than mine – and greets me by my name. I recognise the face, but he seems to have ditched the eyebrows slits and gotten a lot older… must’ve been an old photo. We embrace each other in excitement of finally meeting.
As we weave around the tourists and sun worshippers, we laugh about Misha’s awful shift at his hotel receptionist job the night before, and I feel more at ease knowing that I’m with a man who never takes life too seriously. Misha has a very distinguishable demeanour, like if he walked into a room, everybody would look kind of demeanour.
He stomps his black doc martens with a wiggle in his hips, and an attitude of a fiery young woman, which puts me in complete awe. These characteristics totally transcend his overtly masculine appearance; the shaved head, stubbly face and baggy rolled up jeans are more reminiscent of the skinhead look of the ‘70’s.
I compliment his green Harrington jacket and become intrigued to find out more about his style, “I’ve honed my everyday look down to a concept I call Sissy Skinhead,” he boldly announces with a cheeky half smile. “In the 90s it became one of the most popular forms of fetish wear for gay men, only overtaken by the rise of the chav look.”
After years of trying different styles, he found that this is his way of visualising his queer identity. “When I was younger I fought very hard to look androgynous. I removed all my body hair, I grew my hair long, wore make up and tried to look slim. By the time I was 19 and my man body was setting in, I realised that I would never look androgynous in the way that I wanted to.”
Misha MN is a 25-year-old photographer who lives and works in Brighton. Sexuality, gender, and spirituality are hallmarks in his work, and art is in his blood. “Both my parents were artists, so growing up I always had an extensive arts education. We travelled around Europe a lot and spent part of every summer in Venice, where I found myself frolicking in front of the full force of the Renaissance”, Misha giggles.
I find myself tied to each word that leaves Misha’s lips, as he meticulously shapes these graphic scenarios in my mind with the next one spoken. A storyteller, and visualist in every sense of the word, he has the ability to engulf anyone in his energising presence.
“I’m a witch, a satanist and a shaman… but not in a way that i follow prescribe creeds or methods.”
Misha’s attention drifts off as if he is reliving these childhood memories, and with sincerity, tells me how he was “fortunate enough” to be exposed to all kinds of art forms, from Classical to Contemporary.
From this young age, art has always had a significant external impact in Misha’s life and work. He begins to express his love for the Old Italian masters; Titian, Tintoretto and Bellini, and the “astoundingly powerful religious tableaux they created.”
As soon as I become engrossed in his knowledge, Misha finds a way to amuse the situation once again; “Ever since I was a child, I was dressing up as the Virgin Mary, with my mum’s petticoats on my head,” and we laugh as he tells me, “now I could do it for real.”
Even though Misha well and truly missed the Renaissance period, it was when he began studying photography as a teenager that he realised that he could put a contemporary spin on their paintings. The influence is evident in his portraiture and use of bold colour, and heavy spiritual citations.
Misha summons creativity from far beyond the realms of this world. He dubs his genre as ‘Queer Spiritual Resistance’ and declares, “I’m a witch, a Satanist, a shaman.”
Misha’s work on the surface certainly holds metaphysical aspects, but the substance is much more complex. I want to know more. “Not in the way that I follow prescribed creeds or methods” he assures me, but in the ideology of Queer Spiritualities.
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people are known to have a unique history as spiritual people. Reverend Mona West for the Metropolitan Community Church, who were the first church to perform same gender marriages, spells this out a little more. In an essay titled Queer Spirituality, Mona discusses the negative association to each word historically, but writes, ‘today, they are being reclaimed as positive words’.
The LGBTQ+ community has reclaimed the word ‘Queer’ for themselves, and added it to the abbreviation as a word that challenges and questions the notion that we must all fit one consistent heteronormative identity.
Society has devolved to make us feel shameful and guilty for natural sexual expression towards someone of the same gender to the point where it is against the law, in some countries.
“The days of trying to cater to straight people, to squash their fears about us, to assure them that we are just like them are over. I want no part of their life. I want no part of the heteronormative dream. I want to be feared. I want to be powerful. No family is safe when I sashay,” Misha says, with passion and so much sass.
Throughout history and a plethora of cultures, queer people have been held in high respect for their spiritual leadership, but because of prejudice and religious abuse, their spiritual heritage has become clouded. Misha distinctly expresses this belief within his imagery through the use of symbolism, tribal face paintings, extravagant flowers, headdresses, and headless dolls.
In his collection entitled Lost Boys, every boy is in costume – some more extravagant than others – but each one is representational of a divine spirit in ancient religion and mythology.
“I’ve always found dressing up to be a very powerful act. Clothes can give you so much, whether it’s dressing to go out, dressing to feel sexy, important, put together, happy. I always understood the power of clothes within images, because I aspired to be every goddess in flowing robes that I ever saw. I wanted to be a princess, a queen, a woman, because they got to wear the most fabulous clothes.”
There is obvious portrayal of Indigenous American Indian cultures that understood the berdache, cross dressing people to be two-spirited, possessing both male and female characteristics.
“Their spiritual powers were meant to bring the tribes good luck” Misha beautifully articulates. “I had read about it a few years ago and enjoyed learning about it. It’s another example of queerness and spirituality coming together in ways that are surprising to western Christianity.”
“So often in life, queer people are the subject of systems; legal, social, and political, but here I am the grand master and all these desirable cis-men are my possessions, my image, my subjects”
“The Lost Boys series for me marked the beginning of a new chapter of my life. I graduated art school and had just finished the most significant body of work I had ever produced. It was a book called Heresy: Spiritual Resistance in the Modern Age, and comprised of a 25,000 word essay on queer spiritualities, and over 200 pages of my own religious power images.
It drained me of every last drop of energy that I had, so producing Lost Boys straight after was my way of administering self-care, allowing myself to regenerate,” he gestures, and looks at me in hope of finding understanding.
Misha’s passion for creativity is undeniable in the way that he articulates himself.
The collection is a catalogue of every single boy that Misha has ever photographed from age 16-24. His deep relationship with his subjects is mirrored through more humble words; “I have loved every single one of those boys, some for an instant, and others for years, but all of them inspired a fleeting moment of thankfulness in me.”
In conversation, Misha’s emotional investment in his work is clear, and he adds, “it started when I was feeling down, and I started making a folder of pictures from photo shoots of cute boys laughing or smiling, so I could look at it and feel happier. After a while I realised that it started making an interesting collection, so I started going through my archives and looking at more candid pictures.”
Backtracking to themes within his images, Misha maintains focus on the Queer Male Gaze, and the notion of viewing these boys through a queer lense, and falling in love with them.
As we flick through the book of images together he points out that, “all of these boys are beautiful, a lot of them are straight and quite a few of them were what could have been described as a member of the ‘in crowd’, a popular kid.” For many people who are not subject to society’s conventional heterosexual norms, they grow up as perpetual outsiders. Misha agrees, “so often in life, queer people are the subject of systems; legal, social, and political, but here I am the grand master, and all these desirable cis-men are my possessions, my image, my subjects.” The reassertion of power is subsequent and inherent in Misha’s self-conditioning.
Throughout our conversation, as we ever so romantically look out upon the sea, I reach out for some more of Misha’s humour. So I ask if he could change anything in the world, what would it be? By this point I wasn’t expecting a one liner, but what I got surpassed all expectations. “Globally, the oppression and degradation of femininity in all peoples. Specifically, the violence against trans women and women of colour. Personally, I’d like to have smaller feet so I can wear really pretty women’s shoes.” Misha lives and breathes these ideals, and every continuation of his passion is one challenge closer to freeing the souls natural identity, regardless of sexuality gender or religion.
And, I hope one day his dreams of small feet can become a reality.
Misha has some last words; what George Sanders as Addison DeWitt says to Bette Davis as Margo Channing in ‘‘All About Eve’: “You are drunk. You are maudlin and full of self-pity. You are magnificent.”
Words by: Sarah Morgan Photography by: Misha MN