A video installation at Munich’s Haus der Kunst museum pays tribute to all the protesters who have courageously stood up to the dictatorial regime in Myanmar (also known as Burma). Starting with the ill-fated 1988 student demonstration that was brutally crushed by the junta, the 19-screen documents all the protests that have taken place. It culminates with last year’s equally ill-fated Saffron Revolution. The ambitious project, which was commissioned by Vienna’s Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary and New Delhi’s Public Press, treads the fine line between art and political protest.
Myanmar junta leader Sen. Gen. Than Shwe: The video installation gives the military a "recognisable" face by closing in on the camera-shy dictator
Many voices come together in Amar Kanwar’s three-part video installation. The Indian artist-filmmaker has named his work “Torn First Pages,” in reference to a law passed by Myanmar’s junta.
“The first page of each book, newspaper, journal published must have a page of ideological slogans,” he explained at the opening ceremony in Munich. “If you do not have this page your publication will be banned.”
The Indian filmmaker thinks his work will be able to serve as evidence in a future war crimes tribunal.
A torn page floating in the wind
Each of the installation’s 19 screens represents a torn page -- symbolising an act of courage -- floating forever in the wind. The work represents 20 years of Burmese political protest. Each screen tells a small story of heroism in the face of military dictatorship.
Amar Kanwar recalled one incident that had inspired him: “In 1988, a young 13-year-old girl called Ma Win Maw Oo was shot by the military. There is a photograph of her that was shown for a day and forgotten. When I saw that photograph, I was deeply moved by the scene of two students carrying her body so I made a film.”
For Francesca von Hapsburg, the director of the Vienna-based Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary, which co-commissioned Amar Kanwar’s installation, art has a duty to remember such incidents and to support protests against oppression.
Commissioned to give hope
When in September last year Myanmar’s junta cracked down heavily on peaceful protests that were led by Buddhist monks and had been triggered by a rise in fuel prices, von Habsburg recalled, it was clear unfortunately “that it would not be an issue once the rebellion had been crushed.”
She said the installation had thus been commissioned to give hope “to the people in Burma who feel forgotten if the international community doesn’t support them.”
Amar Kanwar intends to remember the people of Myanmar and keep the protest alive. His installation has three sections; each of which deals with a specific kind of political action.
Giving the military a recognisable face
The first section has a film called “The Face” running on one of the screens -- it shows a close-up of Myanmar’s camera-shy leader, General Than Shwe. Kanwar’s clear intention is to give the military a recognisable face.
Part Two takes the protest to Fort Wyne in Indiana, USA where Burmese activists are keeping the struggle alive.
The third and last part is an archive of photos of people who have been arrested or have disappeared in Myanmar.
This commissioned work has given the Amar Kanwar, born in 1964 in New Delhi, a chance to express his deep conviction that the dictatorship in Myanmar has to be brought down.
The installation goes on show at Munich's Haus der Kunst on 08 Oct. 2008. In November, it will go to Vienna where it will be shown in conjunction with a film that documents recent protests in Tibet.