Art behind bars

15 images Created 1 Jul 2014

These photographs document art and other objects made by political prisoners in Myanmar between 1988 -- the year of the People Power Uprising when National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi become a national icon -- and 2012, after Myanmar's "opening up," when the military junta was dismantled and a nominally civilian government under the leadership of President Thein Sein started a process of democratic reform. Made inside several prisons across Myanmar, the objects were photographed with the help of: Htein Lin, artist and dissident, imprisoned 1998-2004; Ma Thanegi, writer and former aid to Aung San Suu Kyi, imprisoned 1989-1992; San Zaw Htway, artist and activist, imprisoned 1999-2012; and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma). Collecting photographs of the objects together seemed a way to visualize something of the un-photographable hours and years of uncertainty, boredom, and pain lived by Myanmar political prisoners, who endured in part by being creative with the most limited of materials. As San Zaw Htway said, "When making art, I could visualize scenes in my head that I had no words for. Everything I made I saw as a poem. I was just doing, just finding out the color. When I'm making art, it's just my art and me. There was no prison, no guards. I became free in my mind." As of April 4, 2015, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners reports that 172 political prisoners are still incarcerated, and another 296 political activists are awaiting trial.
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