Paulina, art, and TB stigma

“Even a doctor told me not to tell anybody, or I would be branded for life.”

We met Paulina, a Russian artist and tuberculosis (TB) survivor, at the WHO Global Ministerial Conference on TB in Moscow in 2017. Even though the Russian Federation is a “high TB burden” country that is prioritising TB elimination measures, a TB diagnosis still comes with stigma. In May 2015, at 25 years old, Paulina was diagnosed with TB and admitted to hospital, where she would spend the next 6 months and 17 days, surrounded only by healthcare professionals and other people with TB. She describes this as a time of “fear, misunderstanding, anger, despair, loneliness, silence, love, friendship and hope.”

“I realised I want to create an exhibition which could break the silence, and show a parallel world where people are fighting for their lives.”

During her time in hospital, Paulina created a series of paintings called “Hold Your Breath”, bringing to life to her story and to those of the other patients around her. Paulina now uses her pictures to raise awareness of TB and tackle the stigma of TB diagnosis. Proceeds from the sales of Paulina’s paintings support her TB advocacy.

Not Leaving depicts the poignant moment Paulina said goodbye to her boyfriend when she went into hospital, not knowing when she would be able to see him again. We are privileged that this painting is now on display in our FIND Geneva office.

Watch Paulina’s story in her own words below, or visit her website.