In the middle of the night on August 9, 2020, thousands of Belarusians rushed into the dark streets. The internet had gone down that day, and all roads and entry points into Minsk, the capital city, were blocked by the army. It was the day of the presidential election, and state news was claiming that incumbent Alexander Lukashenko had won by a landslide 80% of votes. The result was internationally condemned as neither free nor fair, and many Belarusians, who had put up with his authoritarian regime for 26 years, had had enough.
That night, protestors carried white ribbons and flowers as symbols of hope and peace. Police responded with batons and bullets. Lives were lost, thousands were brutally detained, and many are still missing. But the spirit of rebellion is only gaining momentum as rising numbers continue to march week to week.
Graphic designers and illustrators are using their skills to join Belarus’ struggle for democracy. In July, artists Sergey Shabohin and Maxim Tyminko set up Cultprotest.me to create a platform for the best pro-democracy posters being created in Belarus and internationally. It now houses over 200 works that are highly expressive, visually arresting, and unique in their treatment of the topic. Many of the posters on the platform contain clever visual metaphors that make reference to Belarus’ history and the symbolism used in the protests.
“What is happening now in Belarus evokes an incredible spectrum of emotions: from growing indignation and anger towards the disgusting lawlessness and violence of the authorities, to admiration for the courage, determination and dedication of a huge number of different people united by a single goal—freedom,” the founders state in their appeal to designers.
They believe that this time is different. Not only have the protests become more widespread, they have also become “truly aesthetic.” As designers use their visual language to raise their voices in support of a free Belarus, we asked five illustrators to decode their work and reveal the visual references contained within.