• Beyond the Canvas

The meaning of freedom in 2021

It's been a year since the last presidential elections in Belarus. As Alexander Lukashenko was being crowned for the 6th consecutive time, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest. I remember seeing photos and video footage and realising how much courage it took to just be out there in a country where a violently repressive regime has all but wiped out independent media, arrested political opposition leaders forcing them out of the country and where any dissenting voice gets silenced.


Belarusan art student Anastasiya Mirontsava was among the protesters incarcerated in Minsk in October last year. Found guilty of “breaching public order” and “using violence against police officers”, she is now serving a 2-year sentence in a prison colony where her sister Viktoriya is also detained. Anastasiya, who's 25, uses drawing to tell us about her time in custody. There is an intimacy and deceptive simplicity to these works, a window onto her everyday life which I find deeply touching. The letters she has been sending to her friends also reveal a heart-warming vein of optimism about nature and the world beyond the prison gates.


As I look at these poignant monochrome drawings I feel how slow and difficult Anastasiya's days must be, and I try to imagine what it's like to lose your freedom for joining a protest and speaking your mind. Then I think about the cretins who stormed the (wrong) BBC office in London a couple of days ago, and the ones screaming obscene anti-vaxx nonsense in Trafalgar square weeks before them. Chanting 'freedom', they shake their fists at an imaginary enemy and claim their civil liberties are being curtailed. Cowards, you know nothing about losing your freedom.


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All images © Anastasia Mironstava



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