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Artists Respond: Myanmar Fights for Democracy

On 1 February, the Tatmadaw—Myanmar’s military—seized control of the government in a coup, claiming widespread election fraud and detaining many members of the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) party. In response, millions of people across Myanmar—students, teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, nuns and government workers—have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), holding the country’s economy hostage by refusing to go to work until the generals step down. The Tatmadaw has sought to crush the movement with spectacular violence, torturing dissidents, beating children and gunning down protesters in the street. As of 20 March, the death toll stands at 247. So far, the CDM’s resolve remains unbroken

New Naratif asked seven contributors to respond to the crisis in Myanmar in images and words.

A painting of protestors marching with flags on the street. Coils of barbed wire are overlaid on them, and at the top a speaker with a microphone rallies the crowd.

Spring Revolution by Thu Ra Kyaw

“We are on the streets to defy the unjust military coup. This case is not only related to a person or a group, but also to all people in Myanmar; that’s why people from all ethnic backgrounds and professions, including students and labourers, continue to join our Spring Revolution. Many youth have fallen. Now, we feel the same as our brave young students imprisoned under the military who are being tortured to death behind barbed wire.”

The Waves

The water of Ayeyarwady is missing
its partner _ the air
the river is searching for its shore.

As long as the current streams,
We should strive harder and harder. 
As long as the waves roar,
We should rise stronger and stronger.

This is the beginning of _
“The third wave of struggle”
To heal Myanmar again
To save ‘Our Golden Land’ again.

By Mayyu Ali
7 February 2021


ဧရာဝတီ ရေပြင်ကြီးဟာ
သူ့အဖော်မွန် လေညှင်းကို လွမ်းဆွတ်တမ်းတလို့၊
မြစ်ကြီးဟာ ကမ်းခြေကိုသာ ဖွေရှာနေမိတယ်။

မြစ်ရေက ဒလဟော စီးဆင်းနေသရွေ့
တို့တွေလည်း ကုတ်ကုတ်ကတ်ကတ် ရုန်းထအားထုတ်ကြမယ်။
လှိုင်းလုံးကြီးများကတဝုန်းဝုန်း ရိုက်ခတ်နေသရွေ့
တို့တွေလည်း ကြံ့ကြံ့ခိုင်ခိုင် ထကြွပေါ်ထွန်းကြမယ်။

“ရုန်းကန်လှုပ်ရှားမှု တတိယလှိုင်း” ရဲ့ နိဒါန်းပဲလေ။
မြန်မာပြည် တဖန် ငြိမ်းအေးချမ်းသာစေဖို့
“သင်္ဂီရွှေရည် ငါတို့မြေ” ကို
တဖန်ပြန်ဆယ် ကယ်တင်နိုင်ဖို့ပါပဲ။

#အရေးတော်ပုံ အောင်ရမည်

ဖေဖော်ဝါရီလ ၇၊၂၀၂၁

A photo illustration of hundreds of bougainvillea thorns, laid out to form a river, a road, a path running through a landscape.

The Waves, poem by Mayyu Ali and art by Sharon Chin

“There is a bougainvillea bush outside the house. We’ve been in battle for almost a decade. It grows many thorns, some more than an inch long. Every so often, I hack it down to a stump and suffer deep scratches in the process. It refuses to die. In a few weeks, it’s back to an unwieldy size, teeth catching on my sleeve as I head out the door.

This time we’re in, I see no way but through a path of thorns. The river is filled with thorns—our brothers and sisters. On each shore: thorns. Hard days, here and on ahead. I made this pattern for what I saw in Mayyu’s poem.

When I was taking the thorns to make the pattern, I found an empty bird’s nest cradled amongst the spiky branches. It sat there like a single cupped hand, like a promise, like an answer to a question I didn’t know how to ask.”—Sharon

At the top, a young man, shot in the head, says into his phone, “Mother, your son has been hit.” In the centre, a man tries to pull a fallen protester to safety. In the lower right, a pile of mobile phones, shoes and personal items lay abandoned, their owners having dispersed in haste as the military fired shots. In the bottom left, children console their mother as she cries out for her son.

Myanmar’s Fallen Protesters by Anonymous

“On 28 February, amid mass pro-democracy protests, police and soldiers responded with deadly violence, killing at least 18 people. This illustration depicts scenes from that day. A young man, shot in the head, says into his phone, “Mother, your son has been hit.” A man tries to pull a fallen protester to safety. A pile of mobile phones, shoes and personal items lay abandoned, their owners having dispersed in haste as the military fired shots. Children console their mother as she cries out for her son.”

An illustration of a mobile phone being used to take video footage of soldiers arresting a protestor on the street. The person holding the phone is hiding behind drawn curtains, filming out of their window.

Captured by Ahmad Zaldarriaga Saldain

“Watching events unfold across different cities in Myanmar, I wanted to focus on the brave individuals who risk being caught to bring us news from the streets and from their homes. These videos serve to show us the brutal reality happening within. ‘Captured’ is about the truth prevailing despite oppression from military authorities, indiscriminate repression to quell protests and the suppression of information through internet blackouts and censorship.”

A painting of two bloodied slippers on a tar road. The text 'Democracy Myanmar' is printed on the slippers.

The Road to Democracy Is Stained in Blood by Black Art

“This painting, of the white slippers worn by teachers, is meant to symbolise their nonviolent approach. A teacher who was wearing white slippers while protesting was shot with rubber bullets and died of a heart attack. This painting embodies the people of Myanmar’s big dream for democracy. People are on the streets, risking their own lives in their march toward democracy without turning back. The blood depicts those heroes who have sacrificed their lives.”

Editor’s note: the painting was completed on 8 March, the same day police and soldiers opened fire on protesters in Kachin State. Four protesters were hit, two of whom died.

An illustration of protestors holding candles on the street. Riot police in armour surround them from the sides, and a large eye in the sky peers down on them.

Defiance by Kevin Hlaing

“With this piece I wanted to show the courage and commitment of the Burmese people to fight for democracy. 

Here in Myanmar, there’s a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.; those who go out then can be arrested or, worse, shot at by soldiers. Despite the dangers, the people still go out for night protests in defiance of the curfew and the military, lighting candles to honour the fallen heroes: brave peaceful protestors who lost their lives to gunfire and police brutality.”

Call to Action: The main opposition to Myanmar’s military junta is known as the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). The apparently leaderless movement is made up of hundreds of thousands of civil servants, plus many workers in the private sector, who are staying home from work and forgoing their salaries in order to financially coerce the generals into stepping down.

The longer these workers can survive without collecting their salaries, they believe, the more likely they will succeed. Therefore, the movement needs donations to survive. Mutual Aid Myanmar is collecting donations to support striking workers, and additional fundraisers can be found at isupportmyanmar.com

To support on-the-ground journalism in Myanmar, consider donating to Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar.

For updates on the protests for democracy in Myanmar, including protest art, follow the hashtags #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #MyanmarCoup on social media. And read New Naratif’s interview with activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi.

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