The Eva Yarrow’s project includes portraits and stories of female participants of peaceful actions that spontaneously evolved in August 2020 as a reaction to the rigged presidential election and the manifestation of unprecedented violence by the official Belarusian authorities. Among main markers there were white clothes and flowers symbolically indicating the women’s position; having no weapons, they only wanted peace and justice. It was a time full of hopes for quick changes for the better.
Less than a year later, the authorities unleashed large-scale methodical repressions of the dissenters. Thousands of criminal cases were started, almost all the independent media and NGOs got closed down, and the opponents of the self-proclaimed president were forced to flee the country. The symbols of the protests (the white-red-white flag and the historical Belarusian coat of arms) were recognized as extremist, and people risked their freedom for the photos once taken during the marches and then posted on social networks and in the media – using AI face recognition technology, the police were meticulously tracking down their participants.
Classical photojournalism became a crime in Belarus, and I had to look for new visual methods to speak about the events unfolding in my country. I turned the kids’ room into a photography studio and started shooting “mugshots” of my project participants. After printing the images, I suggested the women using dried flowers as an addition to their portraits: they could choose both the type of the plant and the degree to which they would like to leave their faces visible and thus recognized – depending on how much they feared a possible arrest for expressing their civic position at the time of our meeting. Thus, transformation became one of the key ideas of the project: for several months of peaceful confrontation, not only the seasons and types of flowers the protesters were holding changed, but also the protesters themselves. Someone went through imprisonment, others had to flee the country or rethink the very concept of fear and safety.