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book and exhibition about prison life

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“Many people who are imprisoned under the drug Article 228 do not feel like criminals. A person seems to know that this is a crime in our country and for this he will be imprisoned if detained, but he seems to think: well, in What is the crime here? I buy something for myself with my own money, that’s all. There is no damage or casualties, “says artist Andrei Mitenev. He was detained in December 2017 for illegal drug possession. During the two and a half years spent in the colony, he painted more than 200 works on prison life. All of them will be included in the collection, the fundraising for which is now open on the crowdfunding platform “Planet”.

Andrey Mitenev detained in 2017 on a train when he went out into the vestibule to smoke. He had two grams of amphetamine with him. “I have seen before that such repressive measures are taken and that people are imprisoned for drugs, but, unfortunately, this threat did not stop me. I had to go to prison to come to my senses,” the artist sighs.

Andrei Mitenev’s work “Construction”

The first few months after the detention turned out to be the hardest, he admits. The artist had never thought that he could go to prison before: he did not identify himself with this sphere of life and therefore felt like a stranger there.

“For people who commit burglary or robbery, prison is perceived as ‘their environment.’ Mitenev.

He admits that he himself was close to this state in the early days. Then his cellmates, learning that he was an artist, gave him colored pencils. Drawing distracted from gloomy thoughts.

The only difference from the walk from the camera was that it was cold and dirty

Mitenev could not portray anything unrelated to prison life, so he began to capture everything he saw around him. Over time, he realized that many drawings were incomprehensible to those who had never encountered prison life, and began to come up with short descriptions of them.

– Remember what was the first thing you drew?

– The first were sketches of how the detention process took place. They are dedicated to the ritual of imprisonment. First, the person gets to the police department, then he is taken to an investigative experiment, where you need to show the location of the bookmark and tell everything in detail, then interrogate and search, then taken to the assistant prosecutor, and later in jail. All these drawings, however, were not included in the book I plan to publish.

– And what were the first drawings from those included in the book?

– These are works that I wrote when I got used to it. I was then in “Sailor’s Silence”. These are sketches from a walk. When I was first told that we were going for a walk, I was very happy. But in the end it turned out that we go to the same cell, only on the roof. That is, instead of a ceiling there was a lattice, and a little higher corrugated metal. It was December, and this walk differed from the camera only in that the walk was cold and very dirty, and the music was loud. And we all walked in a circle. I tried to break this circular motion, but I couldn’t. Then, I remember, someone said, “Let’s change direction, or we’ll be dizzy.” And we went the other way. In the first pictures I depicted this.

The work of Andrei Mitenev "Rise"

Andrey Mitenev’s work “Rise”

Mitenev’s works included in the book can be divided into three parts: drawings concerning life in the cell, dedicated to the work in the economic detachment of the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention center, and images of life in the colony. The artist was serving his sentence in IC-3 of the Tambov region.

Despite the fact that Mitenev portrayed mostly prison life, the very process of drawing was for him an attempt to escape from the reality in which he was forced to be. “When you paint, you think about composition, color – about something of your own.”

He did not initially plan to publish a book with his prison work. At first he thought about holding an exhibition after his release. Then I realized that I had accumulated too much work, then the idea of ​​a collection appeared.

“The only thing was that it was unclear what to do with the paintings in the colony. I was very afraid for their safety. They were periodically searched there. They were viewed during the search and some of them were destroyed.

Destroyed mainly those works that caused dissatisfaction with the administration. Most of all, I did not like the images of the life of prisoners. For example, a drawing showing the ritual of drinking chifir was destroyed. “Usually a mug of chifir is taken and started in a circle. Before taking a sip, everyone makes a toast, which ends with the phrase” Life of thieves. “Everyone present must then shout in unison,” Mitenev recalls.

In prison, all the ongoing processes have been reduced to absurdity

To preserve his work, he first hid it in the library, then in the warehouse where he worked at night. Once he tried to send them to his wife by mail, but the drawings were returned to him. When Mitenev was transferred to the colony, he had to leave everything he had drawn in the pre-trial detention center: “Don’t take them with you,” said the detachment chief. “Everyone will be thrown to hell. In fact, it turned out that they did not want to give them away – the wife had to take the drawings with a fight. And then in the colony the artist began to pass new images to his wife during meetings.

He does not regret the experience of imprisonment. “I don’t want that for anyone, of course,” the artist hastily adds. “While in prison, however, you begin to understand many things that happen here at large, because prison is the quintessence of the state. all the same processes take place as here, only there they are brought to the absurd. “

The work of Andrei Mitenev "Tram"

Andrey Mitenev’s work “Tram”

As an example of such “absurd” situations, Mitenev cites the patriarch’s visit to the “Sailor’s Silence”: the myth of the Potemkin villages has acquired a new meaning there. “While waiting for the visit, it was decided to redo the asphalt. We did not have the material for this, so it was invented to imitate asphalt in the form of cement with coal. “In the summer, during the rain, it all flowed,” says the artist. it’s a demonstration of such state insanity. “

We seem to be working, but we don’t seem to be visible

Women in the colonies are constantly confronted with state insanity. Most of them are also on drug charges, says the author of the project. “Woman. Prison. SocietyLeonid Agafonov. At the end of June he decided to spend in St. Petersburg exhibitiondedicated to the results of five years of project work.

The work presented at the exhibition "Woman.  Prison.  Society".  Photo: Karina Merkurieva

Work presented at the exhibition “Woman. Prison. Society”. Photo: Karina Merkurieva

“I thought we needed to do an exhibition with some intermediate results to show what we’re doing here,” says Agafonov.

The exhibition consists of portraits of the applicants who turned to the human rights activist for help, as well as drawings related to prison themes. The purpose of the event is to draw attention to the conditions in which women with children are kept in colonies, how they are transferred and provided with medical care.

Picture from the section "Women and children".  Photo: Karina Merkurieva

Picture from the section “Women and children”. Photo: Karina Merkurieva

The exhibition can be divided into several sections: women and children, HIV-positive women in the colonies, the class system and representatives of the LGBT community in prisons, as well as women and oncology. The latter was presented in the documentary “The Last Hope“, which was removed by Agafonov.

He plans to hold the exhibition twice more in St. Petersburg. A new discovery is planned in DK Roses in August.

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