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Two Women in Their Time

Posted on August 20, 2020 - By The New Press
Two Women in Their Time
Two Women in Their Time

The Belarus Free Theatre and the Art of Resistance By MISHA FRIEDMAN and MASHA GESSEN

A collaboration between the National Book Award-winning journalist and the prize-winning photographer on the queer-resistance theater troupe

In the fall of 2017, the internationally acclaimed underground theater troupe Belarus Free Theatre took New York by storm for a production of their harrowing anti-torture, anti-Putin play, Burning Doors. They were joined by Maria Alyokhina, a member of Russian punk group Pussy Riot, who made international headlines when they were imprisoned for staging an anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral. The play met with enthusiastic acclaim from critics.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times wrote: No matter what the laws of physics decree, there is untold and explosive energy in resistance. Or such is the evidence of 'Burning Doors,' the Belarus Free Theater's bruising exploration of the dynamics of resistance -- the kind that occurs in the intersection of art and politics. Sara Holden, New York Magazine praised it as a smart, smoldering, physically brutal piece of theater.

In Two Women in Their Time: The Belarus Free Theatre and the Art of Resistance (The New Press, October 2020), award-winning documentary photographer Misha Friedman and New Yorker reporter Masha Gessen take us backstage, giving us an intimate look at this fiercely creative drama troupe that cannot officially perform in its homeland, which remains a dictatorship in all but name. The result is an astonishing series of photos documenting the group's productions in New York and Gessen and Friedman's visit to Minsk to meet Svetlana Sugako and Nadezhda Brodskaya, the young lesbian couple who keep the Belarus Free Theatre running. The two women live a life in the borderlands-between underground and public, between the closet and being out, in a country where same-sex sexual activity is legal yet remains taboo. Their work proves that queerness will always be dangerous to autocracy.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the BFT. The company was planning workshops, productions and the premiere of a documentary film. Due to the corona virus this programming has been postponed until further notice. In the meantime, the company has opened up its digital archive to share 24 theatrical productions from the past 15 years.

Misha Friedman

Sveta and Nadya attend a post-performance discussion with audience members in Minsk. © Misha Friedman

Misha Friedman

Sveta and Nadya live in a small village about an hour from Minsk and pride themselves on self-sufficiency. Here, Sveta takes a break in their garden. © Misha Friedman

Misha Friedman

Mariya Alekhina (Pussy Riot) performs with BFT troupe on tour in Finland. © Misha Friedman

On Sunday, August 9, the day after the Belarusian Presidential Election, Sveta and Nadya were arrested in Minsk near one of the polling stations where they were peacefully protesting. They spent the next five days in jail in deplorable conditions which they describe in this video made after their release.

Two Women in Their Time marks Misha Friedman's second book in The New Press' ground-breaking series of photo books about LGBTQ communities around the world. His first, Lyudmila and Natasha: Russian Lives, is a collection of photographs that powerfully capture the intimacy of a relationship between two women in Russia.

Other titles in the series include: The Lived Experience: Reflections on LGBTQ Life by Delphne Diallo (releases September 29, 2020); This is How the Heart Beats by Jack Naughton and Jacob Kushner; Dark Tears: LGBTQ Resilience in Latin America by Claudia Jares; Lives in Transition: LGBTQ Serbia by Slobodan Randjelovic; Revealing Selves: Transgender Portraits in Argentina by Kike Arnal; Pride and Joy: Taking the Streets of New York City by Jurek Wajdowicz; Delhi: Communities of Belonging by Sunil Gupta and Charan Singh; Edges of the Rainbow: LGBTQ Japan by Michel Delsol and Haruku Shinozaki; The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA by Gabriela Herman and Out: LGBTQ Poland by Maciek Nabrdalik.

The photobook series is the result of a unique collaboration between the Arcus Foundation, Emerson, Wajdowicz Studios (EWS), and The New Press. Two Women in Their Time is designed by Emerson, Wajdowicz Studios.

Misha Friedman

Sveta and Nadya at Pride Parade in Toronto. Sveta is holding a prop she made that makes fun of a Belorussian anti-LGBT cabinet minister. © Misha Friedman

About the Contributors:
Misha Friedman is an award-winning documentary photographer whose photographs have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the New Yorker, among other publications. The author of Lyudmila and Natasha: Russian Lives and Two Women in Their Time: The Belarus Free Theatre and the Art of Resistance (both published by The New Press), he lives in New York City.

Masha Gessen is a staff writer at The New Yorker and author of 11 books of nonfiction, among them Surviving Autocracy (Riverhead Books, June 2020); The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia, which won the 2017 National Book Award for Nonfiction; and The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Gessen has written about Russia, Putin, LGBT rights, and Donald Trump for the New York Review of Books and New York Times, among other publications; appeared as a commentator on CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and other news outlets; and served as a translator for the acclaimed FX series The Americans. Gessen previously taught at Amherst College and Oberlin College.

Misha Friedman

© Misha Friedman

About the Publisher:
The New Press publishes books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world. These books are made possible by the enthusiasm of our readers; the support of a committed group of donors, large and small; the collaboration of our many partners in the independent media and the not-for-profit sector; booksellers, who often hand-sell New Press books; librarians; and above all by our authors.
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