In late 2016 photojournalist Jadwiga Bronte commissioned me to write an original essay in her book Invisible People of Belarus. This essay, entitled 'Constructing a Place for Difference' is reproduced here. 

Bronte's photographs (a selection are available here) document the lives of disabled people and Chernobyl victims living in governmental institutions in Belarus. These institutions are known as internats and function as something between an orphanage, asylum, and hospice. Internats often exhibit glaring deficiencies in terms of how they care for their residents: very little physical or educational therapy is offered; there are few opportunities for recreational activities; and the right to a private life is not respected, with romantic relationships between residents prohibited. Integration within the local community is virtually non-existent. Their location makes it difficult for the families that would like to stay in touch with their children to visit. Some are located in very rural areas and with almost no public transport links. All internats are either fenced off or walled. This separation stands as a metaphor for the way disability is thought about in Belarus: misunderstood and better shut away.

My writing asks after the potential of Bronte’s work to contribute towards creating a more equitable place for difference; one not confined behind fences. With kind permission from Nobel prize winning author Svetlana Alexievich, testimony from Chernobyl survivors is reproduced throughout the essay to ask what we might learn from a community of people similarly abandoned by the state.

All of the text in the book is printed in both English and Russion and includes an intruduction by Bronte, testimony from an anonymous NGO worker outlining the political and cultural contexts of residential care in Belarus, and interview transcripts from mothers and internat residents. I edited all of the English text. 

The book can be purchesed here.

- Michael Thomason -
Michael Thomason -
Michael Thomason -
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