‘This Kind of Blue’ high­lights tra­vails of dis­placed Kachin chil­dren

The Myanmar Times - - Metro - SAM CARTMELL

“Some chil­dren say that thanks to the con­flict they got the chance to paint,” says Kaw Seng, the organiser of an up­com­ing ex­hibit of paint­ings cre­ated by chil­dren liv­ing in in­ter­nally dis­placed peo­ple (IDP) camps along the Myan­mar-China bor­der.

The ex­hib­tion called This Kind of Blue will be on dis­play at the Goethe-In­sti­tute Villa daily from De­cem­ber 7 to 18.

The ex­hibit is a stark re­minder of the tens of thou­sands of peo­ple dis­placed by armed con­flict af­ter the col­lapse of a 17-year cease­fire be­tween the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion and the Myan­mar mil­i­tary in June 2011.

As of Novem­ber 2018, there are 105,500 dis­placed peo­ple liv­ing in 177 IDP camps across Kachin and north­ern Shan states, ac­cord­ing to Ja Nu, Hu­man­i­tar­ian Co­or­di­na­tor with the Metta Devel­op­ment Foun­da­tion. This pro­tracted dis­place­ment has been par­tic­u­larly dam­ag­ing for chil­dren.

“Chil­dren con­front many chal­lenges, one of the most vis­i­ble is the lack of ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties,” says Ja Nu, adding, “the lack of op­por­tu­ni­ties to do sup­ple­men­tary ac­tiv­i­ties, such as sports, mu­sic or arts is lim­it­ing the full devel­op­ment of chil­dren’s ca­pac­i­ties.”

Ex­hib­ited in Yan­gon for the first time, the paint­ings were all cre­ated since 2016 as part of an art ther­apy pro­gramme sup­ported by the Ai­ra­vati Foun­da­tion. The ex­hibit is or­gan­ised into six the­matic chap­ters: Flow­ers and Bul­lets; Holes for Hid­ing; Fin­ger­prints of Sur­vival; The Marks of Moon; Wild Grass; and This Kind of Blue.

The paint­ings dis­played in each chap­ter are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the chil­dren’s re­sponses to the six spe­cific is­sues tack­led by Ai­ra­vati’s re­cent work in the IDP camp schools. The themes were de­vel­oped through dis­cus­sion with the chil­dren about their daily rou­tines, fears and hopes.

The artis­tic sound­ing chap­ter ti­tles ac­tu­ally point to dif­fi­cult re­al­i­ties fac­ing chil­dren dis­placed by armed con­flict. Fin­ger­prints of Sur­vival is in ref­er­ence the fin­ger­print sig­na­tures chil­dren give in re­turn for ba­sic food aid and school sup­plies. This Kind of Blue, on the other hand, is about the par­tic­u­lar hue of fresh blue tarp roofs that sig­nal the ar­rival of newly dis­placed peo­ple in a camp. Holes for Hid­ing ref­er­ences the roughly dug holes that serve as makeshift bomb shel­ters where IDPs duck from mor­tar at­tacks.

“Af­ter go­ing through seven years of unimag­in­ably hard ex­pe­ri­ences, these chil­dren are learn­ing to deal with the trauma and ex­press them­selves through paint­ing,” says Kaw Seng.

The aim of the ex­hibit is to trans­port the chil­dren’s voices out­side of their iso­lated IDP camps, and to en­cour­age the au­di­ence in Yan­gon to em­pathise with them. “It’s dif­fi­cult but im­por­tant to feel and un­der­stand what oth­ers feel. We need to be touched, be sad, be an­gry, and to see and feel oth­ers,” muses Kaw Seng, adding, “Every day of the ex­hibit is an op­por­tu­nity to touch some­one, and thus to im­pact the world.”

The Ai­ra­vati Foun­da­tion es­tab­lished its art ther­apy ini­tia­tive in 2014 to re­spond to the needs of chil­dren af­fected by the re­newed armed con­flict in Kachin and north­ern Shan states.

As the con­flict en­tered its third year and tem­po­rary IDP camp schools be­came in­creas­ingly per­ma­nent, it was ev­i­dent that dis­placed chil­dren were lack­ing a way to process the emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pacts of their dis­place­ment.

The art ther­apy ini­tia­tive has helped to ad­dress the emerg­ing psy­choso­cial needs of dis­placed chil­dren and their teach­ers.

Ac­tive in 19 IDP camp schools along the Myan­mar-China bor­der, over 3,500 chil­dren have par­tic­i­pated in the Ai­ra­vati ini­tia­tive. To date, over 17,000 paint­ings have been pro­duced. The sym­bolic, and phys­i­cal, weight of this archive com­pels peo­ple to se­ri­ously ques­tion the ways that chil­dren’s lives are fun­da­men­tally dis­rupted by armed con­flict.

The art­works rep­re­sent a liv­ing his­tory of the dis­placed chil­dren’s con­flict-in­duced trauma and their hopes for a re­turn to peace. Paint­ings from the archive have been ex­hib­ited in Myan­mar, Thai­land, and Spain.

Artist and art teacher Kaw Seng is a driv­ing force be­hind the ini­tia­tive. Hail­ing from the Kachin com­mu­nity in China, re­ferred to there as the Jingpo eth­nic mi­nor­ity, Kaw Seng grew-up in Yun­nan prov­ince close to the Myan­mar-China bor­der.

She stud­ied an­thro­pol­ogy at univer­sity in Bei­jing, where her re­search project fo­cused on so­cio-cul­tural change and psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues in the Jingpo / Kachin com­mu­ni­ties in China’s bor­der ar­eas. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in the mid-2000s, she re­turned to Yun­nan prov­ince and be­gan do­ing art ther­apy work with chil­dren and teenagers who had been af­fected by drug abuse and HIV/AIDS.

In 2014, Kaw Seng be­gan work­ing with chil­dren liv­ing in IDP camps on the Myan­mar-side of the bor­der. “I met so many dis­placed chil­dren who have been trapped in the camps try­ing to grow up with trauma, fear and pain which are hard for them to ex­press,” she re­called. “I de­cided to work with them and have been with them un­til now.”

Many of the child artists fea­tured in the ex­hibit have been dis­placed since 2011, some have ex­pe­ri­enced dis­place­ment mul­ti­ple times dur­ing that pe­riod. In the IDP camps, chil­dren and their fam­i­lies are forced to de­pend on dwin­dling hu­man­i­tar­ian aid for their ba­sic sur­vival. But the aid can­not free them from the pain of los­ing loved ones and the fear of new vi­o­lence.

The work of Kaw Seng and the Ai­ra­vati Foun­da­tion aims to teach chil­dren to use art as a sur­vival tool and as a source of joy. She ex­plains the deep mean­ing of this ex­hibit for the chil­dren artists, “In­stead of be­ing marked as dis­placed and vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple wait­ing for aid, through paint­ing the chil­dren ex­press them­selves as equal in­di­vid­u­als who have their own feel­ings and thoughts about peace and the fu­ture.”

Seven chil­dren artists and three teach­ers from the IDP camps will at­tend the This Kind of Blue vernissage. The event starts at 7pm on De­cem­ber 7 at the Goethe-In­sti­tute Villa (cor­ner of Kabar Aye Pagoada Road and Nat Mauk Street, Ba­han Town­ship). The ex­hibit runs daily from De­cem­ber 7 to 18. En­try is free.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Myanmar

© PressReader. All rights reserved.