An exhibition of paintings depicting the brutality of Uzbekistan’s prison system goes on tour this autumn, in what artist Sergei Ignatyev says is an attempt to use art in support of human rights.
Ignatyev, originally from Uzbekistan and now living in the United States, is coordinator of an arts project for the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia.
In an interview for News Briefing Central Asia, Ignatyev described how letters smuggled out of prison inspired his work.
Sergey Ignatyev: When I saw evidence of the extreme brutality to which Uzbek prisoners are subjected, I conceived the idea of doing a series of pieces. The subject-matter came from letters written in prison, from former political prisoners, from photos of the bodies of prisoners who died from brutal treatment, and from reports produced by human rights defenders and journalists.
For example, the painting “Dream” was prompted by the lines, “I was unable to free myself from the illusion that dull obedience to the regime would release me from humiliation. I wanted to survive, but freedom soon became just a secret dream.”
NBCentralAsia: How compatible do you think art and human rights are? We generally think of protecting human rights as something serious involving reports and protests rather than paintings.
Ignatyev: Hollywood actors have joined in the protests against restrictions on human rights. Caroline Aaron and Reno Wilson played leading roles in “Cries From The Heart: Freedom Needs a Voice” [theatrical performance in support of Human Rights Watch, May 2012], which depicted the brutal repression of rights and freedoms in Uzbekistan. In my opinion, this was one of the finest examples of the solidarity between artists and rights workers.
At a concert in Moscow, Madonna appeared on stage wearing a mask and called for the release of members of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot.
A selection of 44 of Ignatyev’s works based on letters and stories from Uzbek prisoners goes on show at the Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in the Peruvian capital Lima this October, before moving on to Brussels and Paris as part of an exhibition highlighting the plight of political prisoners in the former Soviet Union.
This is an extract from a longer article produced by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Democracy advocates are insisting that the Obama administration puts human rights on the agenda of negotiations with Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president, to permit military vehicles and equipment to transit from Afghanistan through Uzbek territory.
U.S. diplomats will “walk a fine line between maintaining transit routes out of Afghanistan and expressing support for democratic principles,” exiled Uzbek dissident Sanjar Umarov recently insisted.