According to a few reliable sources, censorship still exists in Myanmar. Not surprisingly, authors must stil submit 10 copies to the Censorship Board before being given approval to sell or distribute. Though news stories speak of the changes (musicians no longer have to submit song lyrics, journalists no longer have to censor themselves) the Constitution is still in place. A friend was kind enough to show me a copy of the 2008 Constitution of the Union of Myanmar. English printed on one side of the page and Myanama language on the other. Only 5000 copies are printed for 60 million people in the country. Perhaps, as my friend said, they know no one will buy it.
I’ve photographed the tiny section on censorship which has caused so much resentment. It is so non-threatening, relegated to a small paragraph in the middle of the book, yet holds so much power. I would recopy it here but I encourage you to open the photo in a new tab. Worth a read. One line that is misleading and meant to be so is the difficult to read (sorry) “contrary to laws” which means there are some other laws in place (martial, dictatorial law) which tell you that you cannot do anything you want and that the entire Constitution is subject to interpretation by those in power.
To put up with this for so long is a tragedy in itself but what could the people do? They had to eat, make a living, educate themselves and their children, travel, deal with daily realities. Censorship became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Now artists self-censor. And since the changes , there haven’t been any real challenges to their own creative pathways. This may sound harsh, but I don’t see the self-critical amassing controversial work. That point exactly proves that there doesn’t need to be some drastic change. In a way, I’m happy the work remains their OWN work, not some protest of regret or resentment. What I really worry is where they may be going with their work and what it will reflect to the rest of the world about the difficult times ahead.
Here is what I do see these days: a lot of categorization, group identity, ethnic association and xenophobia, especially among artists. In having the freedom to express themselves they are choosing the backward pathways of expression. Controversial will come but I worry in what form and light? I hope I don’t see some installation work representing the wall that is being built around the Rohingya or the performance enhancing the glamour of ethnic superiority.
This is not happening at the moment but from what I’ve seen and heard, it might. This highly politicized environment is making people turn against one another, in order to protect the seeds of democracy now growing in Myanmar’s ground. Democracy provides a platform for everyone to have their own opinion, but some folks’ opinions are just close-minded or wrong. But what do I know? I’m a foreigner in a foreign land. Even when I’m in the US, I feel like a bit of a foreigner. To remind myself and my nonexistent audience: I live through study and observation and I am here. So here I will remain.
Down with Self-Censorship!