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More than 600 people have been killed by the military junta since they ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's elected government in February.

Chaw Ei Thein and Moe Satt Condemn Violence in Myanmar

Myanmar-born artist Chaw Ei Thein. Courtesy Chaw Ei Thein.

Myanmar's art community is appealing to the world for help during a military coup that has killed over 600 people and seen hundreds more 'forcibly disappeared'. The military, known as the Tatmadaw, seized control of the country on 1 February claiming the election won by Aung San Suu Kyi's party in November was fraudulent, a notion dismissed by Myanmar's election commission.

Millions of people took to the streets in protests, which the junta has tried to stamp out. Violence against protestors has included 'shooting them in the head with live rounds,' according to an open letter signed by arts organisations including PEN Myanmar, New Zero Art Space, and the Association of Myanmar Contemporary Art. Published on 17 March, the letter included a list of over 20 prominent actors, poets, musicians, and other artists who have been arrested.

Hugo Boss Asia Art Award nominee Moe Satt was among those in Myanmar who shared the letter on his Instagram on 17 March. The same day, he shared pictures of security doors he and his neighbours made to protect people living on his street. On 18 March he shared further images of the protests, but he hasn't posted since, and could not be reached for comment. The Tatmadaw has restricted internet access—including blocks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—to constrain the protests.

During 'Tatmadaw Day' protests on 27 March, over 100 people were killed. According to painter and performance artist Chaw Ei Thein, a spokesperson for the letter's signatories, another 13 artists and poets were arrested that day. Another 80 people were killed in Bangon, outside Yangon, on 11 April.

'I don't know how to express the situation in my country in this horrible time,' Chaw Ei Thein told Ocula Magazine. 'Cruelty! Relentless violence over non-violent and peaceful protesters and protests.'

SDK, Untitled. (2021). Mixed media.

SDK, Untitled. (2021). Mixed media. Courtesy the artist.

Born in Yangon, Chaw Ei Thein became the spokesperson for the group because she now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is thus safe to speak out. She has lived in exile in the United States since 2009 when she travelled to New York for an artist's residency. In 2010, the Myanmar government refused to renew her passport so she could return home, saying her artwork was too critical of the military leaders.

'They showed me the files they kept from my past regarding my involvement in the political movement as a student in 1988,' she said. 'At that time I met with Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss Student Union matters with other students and leaders.'

Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), was first elected into power in Myanmar in 2015. Since then, there has been less censorship, more artists from Myanmar have been able to participate in international events, and more artists' studios, spaces, and galleries have popped up around the country, Chaw Ei Thein said.

'Under the Aung San Suu Kyi government we artists had hope and energy to go forward,' she continued. 'We were active and had a lot of dreams to develop our arts to be seen in global art scenes,' she explained. But now, she said, 'all that we had before February 1 is gone and remains uncertain in the future.'

With the people of Myanmar unwilling to return to the military dictatorship they endured for half a century, the protests seem far from over.

'We are doing whatever we can do to fight back against the military coup,' Chaw Ei Thein said. 'When the armed forces arrested people in day time, people came out in the very early morning or late at night for protests. If they could not gather in downtown they went up to the mountains or paddy fields or markets. When they could not protest in person, they created or set up installations with objects, placards, posters, and dresses, as silent strikes.'

In the open letter, the signatories wrote, 'We know that the situation must ultimately be solved by the people of Myanmar. But we call on the international community to do what they can to support us in our fight for democracy. As creative professionals from Myanmar, we call on our creative brothers and sisters across the world, and from all artistic communities, to stand up and show solidarity with us in our struggle and support those in need!'

'We, Myanmar people, do really need your help!' Chaw Ei Thein said.

Among ways to help are by donating to the CRPH GoFundMe or the Civil Disobedience Movement Myanmar, supporting projects such as 100 Projectors, The Transnational Coalition for the Arts, and Three Fingers, and sharing information about Myanmar's fight for democracy. —[O]

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