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Myanmar coup: How citizens are protesting through art

By Yvette Tan

BBC News

An atmosphere of fear and anger spread across Myanmar this week as millions of people awoke to find out the military had taken control, ousting the elected government.

But how do you fight back in a country where protests have been violently supressed before?

For some, it has meant putting pen to paper and taking the battle online.

Clanging pots and pans

One Burmese artist, known only by the pseudonym Pen Holder, says they believed it was their “duty” to protest through art.

“We will continue to oppose the government until the real leader of our people is restored,” they said.

Their drawing depicts an entire Burmese family – from young to old – all gathering together to bang pots and pans in protest, a scene seen across the country in the evenings since the coup.

The picture has since gone viral, shared thousands of times by those on social media.

“Our people have no weapons – we aren’t able to access this. Instead, as an artist, I fight with a pen,” they told the BBC.

“I am scared. But I also don’t want to regret what I didn’t do. I want to fight against this.”

‘The three-fingered salute’

“I drew this as a citizen who is dissatisfied with injustice,” Mg Pyi Thu – not his real name – tells the BBC.

In his drawing, Mg Pyi Thu prominently features the phrase “Remember, remember the first of February”, a nod to the famous quote “Remember, remember the fifth of November” – a reference to a failed bid to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in 1605.

This, he says, is to remind Myanmar’s citizens of what happened on that fateful day.

“The military detained the government and our state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi against the will of the people,” he said.

He also features a three-fingered salute, with tears streaming down its face.

“The tears are tears of the Myanmar citizens in the current situation,” he said. “We are scared under the armed groups led by [General] Min Aung Hlaing.”

When asked why he decided to begin protesting through art, he says “[the answer] is crystal clear.”

“I want everyone from all over the world to notice [our situation]. I want them to know that we strongly condemn the actions of the military. I don’t want to live under a dictatorship. I want to live a peaceful life.”

The milk tea alliance

image copyrightSina Wittayawiroj

The milk tea alliance has brought together protesters in Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and, more recently, India. The anti-authoritarian hashtag – inspired by the classic drink loved in all four countries – began as a way to show solidarity with each other’s pro-democracy movements.

Now, one Thai artist is arguing that Myanmar should be added into the fold.

This image, which has arguably become among the most widely shared on social media by young people, shows a cup of Burmese milk tea – known also as laphet yay- added to the growing alliance.

The artist, Sina Wittayawiroj, says he made the work because he wanted to support the protests in Myanmar the same way Taiwan and Hong Kong supported young pro-democracy protesters in Thailand.

“It’s easy to look at your neighbour and understand [their] situation, the same situation that happens all over this part of the continent,” he told the BBC. “We share the same ideals of democracy…. [I think] people are starting to realise that the military and elite [are too] corrupted.”

He praises those protesting in their own way in Myanmar, saying “they started civil disobedience in just 24 hours after the coup – I think anything can happen in Myanmar right now”.

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media caption‘Dark old days’: What young Burmese fear about the Myanmar coup

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