A new outdoor art exhibit at Kelowna’s Rotary Centre for the Arts offers a glimpse into the first month of the Myanmar military coup, as told by artists experiencing the ensuing unrest.
Art For Freedom is a free exhibit on display until the end of July and features 16-pieces of artwork produced by artists across Myanmar involved in the Art For Freedom collective. The collective has made their work available online so that others can share their images and messages around the world.
“This comes from Myanmar artists. They’re not giving out their names for the most part because they could be arrested or killed for doing this. They can’t really say who they are,” said Hanna Karin, the exhibit’s curator.
The ongoing coup in Myanmar began on Feb.1 when the military overthrew the government after detaining senior figures from the National League for Democracy (NLD). Hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrations have been held nationwide since then, and the New York Times recently reported that more than 600 people have died and thousands have been injured since the unrest began.
Karin, the founder and creative director of Atutu Canada, returned home in May 2020 after spending two years in Myanmar, where she worked as a design advisor with Cuso International. She said she decided to curate the exhibit in Kelowna because she wanted to raise awareness and document the first month of the military coup.
“I was treated so well there while I was there. People were so good to me, so it was just devastating when this whole thing happened in February. For a month, I don’t think I slept,” said Karin.
“I think I had a little bit of that survivor guilt because here I am safe in Canada. I have a place to live and I don’t have to worry about bullets coming through my window, and there are my friends still in Myanmar.
The exhibit flows chronologically, using paintings, sketches and photography to illustrate key moments, groups and symbols from the first month of the coup. Images of the three-finger salute, the Civil Disobedience Movement and the Milk Tea Alliance are just some of the artwork featured in the display.
“I wanted to show the diversity of art that exists in the community. It’s not so easy being an artist in Myanmar, particularly doing the coup — it’s more difficult,” said Karin. “The one good thing that’s come out of this is it united everybody in their fight against this. Everybody is saying they’ve had enough; the military has to be removed from the government.”
She added that her hope for the exhibit is to create more awareness and understanding of the situation.
“I hope people go away appreciating how lucky we are as Canadians, how fortunate we are,” she said. “We have the opportunity to count on our police. Our military are actually working for us. We can sleep at night not worrying about bullets through our windows.”