In Photos, Words and Art, a Generation Looks Back on 1988

Steve Tickner The Irrawaddy

The collective memory of one of Burma’s most iconic generations has re-emerged in an impressive art show commemorating the 1988 popular uprising that became known worldwide as the 8888 Uprising.

The art show, currently on display at the Rangoon University Judson Hall exhibition annex on Pyay Road, this year celebrates the silver jubilee of the uprising, known as 8888 because of the significant events that took place on Aug. 8, 1988.

With the growing environment of free expression in Burma, the exhibition has drawn on previously unseen art works, poetry, writings, sculptures and cartoons produced by former political prisoners both during and after their incarceration.

The quality and depth of the works portrayed, alongside a trove of archival material, comes together in a collection of work both comprehensive and illuminating of the events that now form a significant chapter in the Burmese people’s struggle for political, intellectual and artistic freedom.

Former political prisoner Min Ko Naing, who has attended the exhibition, reflected on what a difference a quarter century can make.

“For the previous 25 years, the military government distorted our cause, however now the people’s struggle can be preserved and taught to the next generation,” he said.

As did many political prisoners, Min Ko Naing spent some of his time in captivity painting. One of his works, “Teardrop,” is included in the exhibition.

Min Ko Naing said that of all the paintings at the exhibition, a piece by former prisoner and artist Ra Hula, which offers an abstract depiction of the revolutionary uprising, resonates most deeply for him.

“Ra Hula was one of a number of prisoners sent to the notorious Coco Island detention center. Conditions there in the late ’70s were so bad that the prisoners went on hunger strike in an attempt to persuade authorities to return them to Insein jail in Rangoon. More than 10 prisoners died as a result, although Ra Hula survived and passed away only last year.”

The exhibition closes on Wednesday.