Around this time last year, I created an image of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who despite being elected prime minister in 1990 has been kept out of power by Burma’s military junta, and has been placed under house arrest for the better part of the last 20 years. The military regime has also imprisoned over 2,100 other political activists, including artists, poets and musicians who have expressed their dissent through their art.
It saddens me to know that there are places in this world where artists can’t make art or express themselves otherwise without fearing imprisonment or worse. It is a fundamental violation of human rights, according to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
I believe that all positive change stems from acts of self-expression, but the Burmese military regime fears change and fends it off by stifling expression. To an artist, that censorship is like an acid that corrodes the soul. Within a society, it is a contagious paranoia that Aung San Suu Kyi once summed up perfectly: “It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Today there is some slim hope for democracy and human rights in Burma as a result of the diplomatic pressure that the UN, the U.S. and Japan have exerted. The junta has announced that there will be elections later this year, though they haven’t said when, and if the four illegal extensions of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest are any indication I’d say they have a habit of going back on their word. I consider Burmese democracy an important cause that demands more awareness and activism in the U.S. and around the world, not only because of the plight of Burma’s dissidents but because I believe that a global grassroots movement can help create real change there.
To the artists currently imprisoned in Burma, I would like to say that your voice can never be silenced, because it is the voice of everyone who believes in freedom. I hope that you will soon have the means and the rights to create again.
If you’d like to get involved in the grassroots movement to free Burma’s political prisoners, visit the Human Rights Watch site dedicated to the cause: http://www.hrw.org/free-burmas-prisoners/take-action
Here is a DOWNLOADABLE version of the Aung San Suu Kyi image
“Free Burma’s Political Prisoners” Art and Photo Installation
Interactive display in a New York City landmark
Grand Central Terminal, Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Human Rights Watch and creative agency JWT are pleased to invite you to a special one-day only interactive art installation and series of presentations to shine a spotlight on political prisoners in Burma, on June 22 in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. The event is part of Human Rights Watch’s “2100 in 2010” campaign, calling for the release of Burma’s estimated 2,100 political prisoners ahead of the elections scheduled later this year.
The centerpiece of this event is a giant interactive installation representing a Burmese prison complex, created by JWT. A closer look reveals that the cell bars are actually pens. Visitors will remove the pens to sign a petition calling on the leader of Burma’s military government, Senior General Than Shwe, to release Burma’s political prisoners. Thousands of visitors will be encouraged to participate in the event, with opportunities to meet former Burmese political prisoners, monks, leading artists and other New Yorkers, to enjoy cultural performances and to sign the petition.
What: One-day art installation to press for the freedom of Burma’s 2,100 political prisoners
Who: Leaders of Burma’s exile community (including former political prisoners, monks, musicians and artists), representatives of Human Rights Watch, including Executive Director Kenneth Roth, New York artists, performers and writers, and members of JWT’s creative team
When: Tuesday, June 22, 2010, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Chanting monks kick off opening ceremonies at 7:45 a.m.; full schedule of speakers and events to follow.
Where: Grand Central Terminal, Vanderbilt Hall (entrance on 42nd St. at Park Ave)
For more information, please go to: