I hear your voices
Standing in front of each painting I meet someone new. I feel their fear and see their dreams. Although living through very challenging times and with the restrictions of an internally displaced person (IDP), one paints with eloquent honesty. There are times they do not have paint, brushes or canvas. But they do have mud, fingers and fragments of cloth - so they continue to paint. They paint to have hope. They paint to have dignity.
The exhibition is divided into twelve chapters - beginning with "Our Roots" and closing with "The Future I Hope To See, Hear And Feel". It is through my lens I see the exhibition. It is through my collages I attempt to make sense of their memories, circumstances, and dreams. The poetry, the writings, and the paintings allow me to peek into their souls and attempt an understanding of the chaos and torment they experience while maintaining the dream of returning to the snowcapped Majoi Shingra Mountain - the place they call home.
Follow me as I walk through the exhibition chapter by chapter.
Chapter 1: Our Roots
We are from Majoi Shingra Mountain: a snowcapped mountain far away.
We remember and we dream.
Chapter 2: The Homeland I Remember
I am far away from my homeland - I have my own village in Myanmar.
The smoke rises, my mother cooks and I will return to eat, to sleep, and to live.
Chapter 3: The Marks Of The Moon
The bullets smell hot and the moon shines brightly as we flee from the conflict.
We run and we fall.
We want the light of the moon to go away.
We want to flee in darkness - not to be seen.
Our hearts pound as we run towards the unknown.
Chapter 4: I Miss You, But You Are No Longer Here
I've lost you beside me, but you live in my heart.
If only I could see you again - I would be good.
Chapter 5: The Flowers
What do I hear? Bullets.
What do I feel? Scared.
What do I see? Holes - many, many holes.
What do I paint? Flowers.
I imagine the champa flower: soft and colourful.
I dream of peace.
Chapter 6: This Kind Of Blue
My favourite colour was blue.
I would wish for a little blue boat. I would wish for a bright blue kite.
Now I look up into the blue sky and dream.
I imagine blue water and hope.
I hope the water will take me home.
The roofs of our shelters are blue - many different shades of blue.
Blue is no longer my favourite colour.
I want to go home.
Chapter 7: Life In Boxes
They give me food - I eat.
They give me clothes - I wear.
They give me shelter - I sleep.
I live with restrictions in a box.
I paint to be free.
Chapter 8: Place To Be
I do not choose to be here. I am here.
I tell my story through tears.
Painting gives me strength and hope.
I paint for freedom.
Chapter 9: Wild Grass
We are displaced - again.
We leave everything behind - again.
The grass died beneath our shelters, but it will grow wildly again.
We are strong like grass.
Like the grass - we will be free again.
Chapter 10: The Holes
Together we dig holes - deep, dark and cold.
She asks me, "Do you feel safe?"
I answer, "No, I feel scared."
The mortar shelling continues and many people die.
Is it my fault?
Chapter 11: The Fingerprints
We flee during the night - leaving everything behind.
I want to take some things with me:
my schoolbag, my books, my slingshot and the rice I helped harvest.
Upon arrival, they give me food, clothes, and shelter.
In return, I give them my fingerprint.
I am my fingerprint.
Chapter 12: The Future I Hope To See, Hear And Feel
I dream of returning home.
I dream of Majoi Shingra Mountain.
These camps will be behind me - a dim memory.
I paint many footprints - as many as I can.
These footprints will lead me home.
I applaud the Airavati organization for establishing an art program for the many displaced children. Through conflict and tears, the children continue to paint and to tell their stories. They dream of peace and of returning home to Majoi Shingra Mountain. To date, more than ten thousand paintings have been created. It is my privilege to share a slice of their world with you.
I leave the exhibition heartbroken and silent.