Feeling much better now, thank you. Partly because I snoozed during part of Zeya's talk this morning. Forgive me. Btw, I'm combining Zeya and Wai Mar's accounts because they're both painters-turned-audiovisualnonfictioneers (he's a VJ, a video journalist; she's a documentary filmmaker).
Zeya made the switch in 2006, when he was just 16, after one of his paintings didn't pass the standards of the censorship board. This was around the time DVB, the Democratic Voice of Burma, was being formed - he was torn between joining them or joining his aunt, who was a full-time rebel. In the end, he chose DVB, because he didn't think the rebels were very effective - with DVB, he believed he could provide a heart-to-heart message to the people of Myanmar.

Wai Mar went into a little more depth when she explained her transition. She recalls exhibiting her paintings in the 90s, and the Scrutiny Board officers coming down to check if she'd painted anything sensitive. Even a simple atmospheric depiction of barbed wire or a broken-down building were suspect, as they symbolised the twin taboos of the regime: Freedom and Poverty. To get on the good side of the censors, she cooked up pro-government narratives behind her work: telling the Scrutiny Board members what they wanted to hear.

Then she discovered new modes: contemporary art, video art, and finally documentary journalism. Now she's doing her Masters in Prague, but while she's here she's been recording the political changes that have taken place in her country, digesting them into documentary video format: the elections of 2010 and the by-elections of 2012, the pathetic government proxy rallies and the wild NLD celebratory parades. It's been easier for her, she thinks, because she's a woman, because she's a less established figure in the scene.
Zeya doesn't have that luxury. VJing is his job, and the police are on to him. Sometimes he's scared when he's filming, he says, so scared that his hands shake and he has to place his camera on a tripod or a fence, or just take deep deep breaths, just to get a steady shot.

He was even arrested him a few years ago, and placed in prison. One of the worst things about that experience was not being allowed to read - guards said there was a danger that he'd be reading political writing. Luckily he was able to negotiate the right to read school textbooks instead, receiving education from older prisoners, which somehow slippery-sloped itself into his bringing actual political writings into jail to form a prison library, where in the end his main problem was that he didn't have enough time to read...

He actually covers a wider scope of issues than Wai Mar. He's not just focussing on the NLD and the elections: he's looking at under-funded rehab centres for kids, the peace talks between the government and the Kachins - he's managed to put pressure on the Minister with his reporting, and he's cautiously optimistic that things are moving in the right direction.

He's bloody brave. It's so strange that we're using him for this petty purpose: videoing us talking about contemporary art and performance, instead of staying out there, keeping the spirit of democracy alive. Yes, art is important. But surely not as important as his activist work.

We'll get to hear more from both of these guys at Superintense in Singapore. Ciao till then.
 


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