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Thinking and Talking about Arts and Culture in Southeast Asia

#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar – and how you can help

By ArtsEquator

In the early hours of Monday, 1 February 2021, the leaders of Myanmar’s elected civilian government were seized and detained in a military coup d’état. Over the past 81 days, the Burmese Armed Forces (also known as the Tatmadaw တပ်မ​တော်) have installed themselves as an illegitimate regime in Myanmar, declared a state of emergency in the country and embarked on a brutal, horrific crackdown on millions of their pro-democracy citizens, many of whom are taking part in a determined Civil Disobedience Movement in order to throttle the financial reserves and economic control of the Tatmadaw. 

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), at least 3,300 political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been detained post-coup, at least 1,000 have been charged on flimsy warrants and are in hiding – and more than 730 people have been murdered, including children. These numbers are a best estimate, and may be significantly higher than what is reported due to an ongoing internet and mobile data blackout in huge swathes of the country. 

International governments, apart from hand-wringing and dispensing repetitive statements of concern, seem to have reached an impasse when it comes to the Tatmadaw, an insular and insecure institution with its own narrow nationalist ideology, internal propaganda machine, and a cultivated immunity to negotiation or rebuke. All eyes are on ASEAN this Saturday (April 24) as a special summit is convened in Jakarta to address the political turmoil and tragedy in Myanmar. Tatmadaw commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing is expected to attend, to much protest and derision from the Myanmar people. They have been calling on ASEAN to invite their newly-formed National Unity Government instead, a significantly more diverse and inclusive parallel civilian government announced during the recent Thingyan water festival.

 

Photo: Anonymous Myanmar protestor

 

Over the past few months, the Myanmar people have demonstrated an astonishing unity, resilience and creativity in the face of collective, unspeakable national trauma. Young Myanmar folks have been spearheading the campaign for solidarity with Myanmar on a global scale. These digital natives – who grew up with full access to the internet and freedom of expression in a way the generations before them never did – are making full use of social media platforms, viral slogans and posters, and well-crafted imagery and aesthetics. They have been fundraising, reaching out to regional allies, putting pressure on errant businesses, tirelessly documenting both atrocities and resistances, and powerfully (re)imagining their national identity and collective belonging in the process. 

We’d like to highlight four of these initiatives established by Myanmar folks both in-country and in the diaspora, and ways you can support them. 

 

RAISE THREE FINGERS
  • Artist: Myanmar Artist

 

Where to find them 

Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | TikTok | Website 

Who and what are they? 

Raise Three Fingers is a campaign founded by artists and creatives in Myanmar to encourage awareness of and solidarity with the Myanmar Spring Revolution among the global art community, and also highlight the unfolding human rights and humanitarian crises caused by the illegitimate military junta. The campaign’s name is derived from the iconic three-finger salute of the blockbuster Hunger Games film series, which has since become synonymous with pro-democracy movements in both Thailand and Myanmar. Groups of protestors in Myanmar have since curated a slew of creative protests involving this powerful gesture, including a “flower protest” where social media users would take photographs of their three-finger salute entwined with or featuring flowers. In another instance, UK-based Myanmar artist Ohn Mar Win has been painting a salute every day her country has been “held hostage” by the military junta. 

 

 

This art campaign is the result of a collaboration between three platforms: Art for Freedom MM, Latt Thone Chaung, and The Professional Cartoonists’ Organisation (UK). Art for Freedom MM began as a way of digitally archiving the outpouring of protest art created by artists and designers in the wake of the coup. Latt Thone Chaung (လက်သုံံံံံံံံံးချောင်, literally ‘three fingers’ in Burmese) is a loose collective of film- and image-makers from Myanmar. Their video work has included slickly-shot interviews with determined young protestors on the frontlines, a soldier who defected from the Tatmadaw, and recitals of revolutionary poetry by some of Myanmar’s most prominent writers and poets.

 

Portrait of A Historical Record at Dawn. Zayar Lynn wrote this poem a few days before the coup on January 29th when he saw army trucks passing through his neighbourhood.

 

As of last week, the platform has received more than 1,000 submissions of artwork from around the world, including artists from Singapore, India, Thailand, Norway and South Korea. These artworks are mostly digital, but have also included a painting on a VANS shoe, sculptures hewn out of scrap metal, and movement work incorporating the three-finger salute. 

How you can support them

The Raise Three Fingers team is encouraging more artists to submit artwork to them by tagging @Raise3Fingers #ThreeFingers #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #Art

The team is also hoping to eventually set up a platform where art can be purchased in a way that will mutually benefit both the artists and the revolution in Myanmar. If you are keen to purchase art prints or original artworks, you can reach out to them at contact[at]threefingers.org. If you’d like to interview any of the artists involved, you can email media[at]threefingers.org. 

 

LAHPET WYNE VIRTUAL POP-UP AND FUNDRAISER

Where to find them

Facebook | Instagram

Who and what are they?

Lahpet Wyne is an art collective based in Singapore that seeks to offer a platform for Myanmar artists from all communities. Their name, လက်ဖက်ဝိုင်း, roughly translates to ‘tea circle’ in English – evoking a sense of communality, where people come together to share tea in a cozy space. Myanmar’s famous milk tea has also become emblematic of the revolution by way of Myanmar’s entry into the Milk Tea Alliance, a democratic solidarity movement previously comprising Hong Kong, Taiwan and Thailand – an affirmation that revolutionary struggles are powerfully entwined.

The collective held their first event, a pop-up sale of prints, stickers and tote bags by Myanmar artists, at the artist-run space Starch in early April. Their booth saw a steady stream of both Singaporean and Myanmar supporters making their way to a remote industrial area in Upper Thomson to purchase work by young Myanmar artists and designers. 

 

Photo: Lahpet Wyne

 

Lahpet Wyne raised a total of S$2,842 from this event, and their first tranche of funds has since been disbursed to families affected by arson attacks by junta forces in Mandalay’s Aung Myay Thar Zan Township, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. About 40 families were affected when their houses were razed to the ground on 12 April. The collective writes: “Targeted violence against Muslim-majority neighbourhoods and cities has been escalating throughout the coup. While Muslims worldwide are celebrating Ramadan peacefully, for our brothers and sisters in Myanmar, this ninth month is stained with tears and blood. A total of $800 of our funds have gone both to the families affected by the arson in Aung Myar Thar Zan Township and those affected by Islamophobic violence countrywide.”

How you can support them

Lahpet Wyne is currently hosting a virtual fundraiser featuring eight Myanmar artists. The fundraiser ends this Sunday (April 25), and all proceeds will go to Myanmar communities most urgently in need. Prices range from S$15 for a tote bag to S$50 for an A3 print. You can put in an order via this online form

The prints feature a variety of revolutionary imagery, including the three-finger salute. Artwork by a Myanmar illustrator who goes by the moniker “kuecool” also features a tumbling toy, the ပစ်ထိုင်းထောင် (pyit taing htaung), a traditional egg-shaped toy that bounces back whenever you try to knock it over. This small object shimmers with radical hope: that the Myanmar people will always rise again.

  • Artist: Moe Myat May Zarchi

 

100 PROJECTORS 

Where to find them

Facebook | Instagram

Who and what are they?

100 Projectors is a projection project; participants are called “Projector Fighters”. Armed only with video projectors, participants are invited to project a curated 10-minute video reel on any surface (walls, bridges, bodies, cars) featuring revolutionary and protest artwork across mediums, such as paintings, graphic art, performance art, photography and moving images. The projectionists often try to reflect current affairs. For instance, in the following images provided by the Institut Français de Birmanie, the video reel was projected on women’s sarongs (or ထမီ htamein in Burmese) in conjunction with International Women’s Day on March 8.

 

Photo: 100 Projectors Facebook


Women have been at the forefront of the revolution. In the lead up to and on International Women’s Day, the htamein wrap skirt has become a newfound symbol and strategy of resistance in cities across Myanmar. The rallying cry of protests became “ငါတို့ထမီ ငါတို့အလံ ငါတို့အောင်ပွဲ” (nga doh htamein, nga doh a lann, nga doh aung pwe, ‘our htamein, our flag, our victory’). Myanmar people began to hang these garments around their neighbourhoods, over roads and across barricades as part of a wave of female-led protest strategies around the libidinal taboos of womanhood that also featured underwear and sanitary products. This was in part a jibe at the conservative and misogynistic male-dominated Myanmar military, who continue to cling to a longstanding superstition that walking beneath a women’s garments will drain a man of his hpoun, a kind of innate masculine power or energy that only men are said to possess. 

This was a specific, tongue-in-cheek strategy aimed at the masculinist insecurities of the Tatmadaw. To the people’s surprise, it worked. Soldiers would stop at every row of women’s garments to carefully take them down. These protest strategies can be read as a culmination of a new wave of feminist and intersectional understanding across Myanmar. For several years now, women and queer performers and activists have been performing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (in both English and Burmese) to sold-out crowds, in spite of the pushback from (usually cis male) audiences who reprimanded them for being vulgar or using offensive language, and who regularly tone-policed them. The Purple Feminists Group ran a substantial social media campaign on the menstruation taboo, collecting stories about menstruation and sharing them on various platforms. Female and queer representation in Myanmar arts and culture has also proliferated over the past few years, with groups such as all-women photography collective Thuma Collective and LGBT+ non-profit and PROUD, which organises a popular film festival. Many of the current protests have been spearheaded by women and queer folks, who are also now increasingly and almost certainly threatened with sexual violence by armed forces when they are detained.

How you can support them

While the group is currently on hiatus within Myanmar, overseas participants can continue to follow their work on social media. There are currently at least 40 “projector fighters” based both in Myanmar and abroad. Those keen to join the campaign can message the group through their social media platforms or email 100projectorsfighters[at]gmail.com. You will be sent a video file curated by the 100 Projectors team. 

The group encourages a variety of projections: indoors, outdoors, large-scale, small-scale, and on any kind of surface. In return, participants are invited to video-record the projection, send a copy of it back to the group, then share the recording on social media with the following hashtags: #100projectors #100projectorsfightfordemocracy #projectorfighters

 

PRINT FOR CRISIS

Where to find them

Website | Facebook | Instagram

Who and what are they?

A group of eighty photographers and image-makers, including many anonymous Myanmar photographers, have each donated an image in support of Myanmar’s pro-democracy struggle. These striking images of Myanmar’s landscapes and people will be sold at £90 each. The proceeds from this sale, which runs from 12 April to 12 May 2021, will go towards Myanmar organisations and initiatives that support freedom of expression, as well as independent media. Print for Crisis is registered in England as a Community Interest Company, and was founded by visual storyteller Chiara Luxardo and visual artist Olga Stefatou. 

  • Kyauk Phyu, Rakhine state, 2016. Photo: Kaung Htet

 

Independent media in Myanmar is currently under direct threat of censorship and persecution. Reporting ASEAN estimates that at least 70 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar since the beginning of the coup. There is a warrant out for another 20 journalists. The most common charge that journalists face is under Section 505 of the Penal Code, arbitrarily applied. The Burma Library has listed out the section as follows: 

Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report,—

(a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force […] to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or

(b) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility; or

(c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community, 

shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

 

How you can support them

You can go to the Print for Crisis website to make your purchase before 12 May. The donated photographs are sold as fully Archival Digital C-type prints in a limited edition of 10 each. These prints are around 20cm by 30cm in size, and the sale does not include mounting or framing. They will be shipped worldwide in June 2021. 

Print for Crisis aims to support a journalist assistance network providing protective equipment, digital security, medical and cash aid for journalists, a local network distributing cash support for artists, as well as two independent bilingual media outlets, Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar. These reputable news platforms actively hire and train local journalists. You can read this account of an anonymous Frontier Myanmar reporter who continued to report after being shot through the hand (content warning: graphic descriptions of violence). 

 

OTHER RESOURCES AND LINKS

  • There are many other ways in which you can both reliably and accountably give in support of various communities in Myanmar, from those who need food support to those who are currently without income as they participate in the ongoing Civil Disobedience Movement. Here are some verified fundraisers: www.isupportmyanmar.com
  • Young Myanmar students and activists have been at the forefront of gathering and disseminating information. This is a link to a set of curated general resources: linktr.ee/whatshappeninginmyanmar, and this is more specific to the Karen/Kayin ethnic minority communities in southeastern Myanmar who currently require urgent aid: linktr.ee/thethtar_thet
  • MyanMed is a bilingual resource on mental health for those navigating the traumatic fallout of the coup. It is run by a team of Myanmar students who do resource- and information-sharing on both physical health and mental health. All of their posts are available in English and Burmese. You can visit their Facebook page or their Instagram profile

 

Dear Myanmar friends — အရေးတော်ပုံ အောင်ရမည်။


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