The Myanmar military’s February 1 coup sparked the largest and most widespread protests in the country’s recent history, showing people’s determination not to be dragged back into a dark past of military dictatorship.
The military responded with ruthless repression, killing more than 1,000 people, arbitrarily arresting and detaining thousands, banning independent media, and cutting off internet access. The junta’s widespread and systematic abuses, including murder, rape and other sexual violence, and torture amount to crimes against humanity.
From the early months of the protests, many Burmese artists also took to the streets, using their art and creativity to peacefully call for a return to democratically elected civilian government and the end of the junta’s abuses.
These artists created amazing visual materials in response to the events. Combining social activism, creativity, and an increasing resolve not to give in to military intimidation, most of their artworks were not designed to be hung in galleries, but rather to serve as messages and images to be displayed at marches or posted on social media.
A unique selection of these artworks is being shown in Paris through Fighting Fear: #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar, a month-long exhibition of 14 works from seven young artists from Myanmar set up at the Place du Palais Royal, in the center of the French capital.
The exhibition opens on September 18, which coincides with an infamous day in Myanmar’s history when soldiers killed thousands of protesters during a 1988 mass uprising in Yangon, then Myanmar’s capital. Now again in 2021, the people of Myanmar are risking their lives to demand restoration of democratic rule and respect for human rights.
These powerful artistic testimonies warn of the urgent need to break the global apathy that has arisen in the face of the junta’s brutal crackdown. The Paris exhibition is a wake-up call to France and other governments to be bold and work together in response to the Myanmar junta’s atrocities. Coordinated sanctions on oil and gas revenues, which are the junta’s main source of income, and a global arms embargo are urgently needed. This is the least governments around the world can do to support the courageous citizens and artists of Myanmar standing up and risking their lives to resist the junta’s ferocious crackdown.