We spoke to Raise Three Fingers, an anonymous collective of artists and creatives in Myanmar who are bringing together the global artistic community to highlight the country's ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Could you explain what Raise Three Fingers is and how it came to life?
There was a huge outpouring of art in the wake of the coup on February 1st. People were making a variety of creative protest signs, digital art, graffiti, and shared memes on social media to defy and document what was happening.
A Facebook page called Art for Freedom Myanmar was soon created, which became a platform for artists to share their artwork in an open source format for the public to use freely for the movement.
Meanwhile, a group of filmmakers started Latt Thone Chaung, which means three fingers in Myanmar, were using their skills to document the injustices taking place in the streets. They interviewed people in mini-documentary style videos to tell the other side of the story, beyond what was being shown on national television.
Support from abroad started coming from the likes of the Professional Cartoonists Organisation (PCO) in the UK, whose members were making political cartoons to support Myanmar.
These three groups - Art for Freedom, Latt Thone Chaung, the PCO, along with a team of passionate creatives and social change-makers in Myanmar - banded and gave birth to Raise Three Fingers.
Through Raise Three Fingers we aim to showcase this immense outpouring of creative resistance coming out of the country while calling upon the global art community to stand in solidarity with Myanmar in its fight for democracy, freedom and human rights.
The campaign highlights the power of the three-finger salute, which originated from the Hunger Games series, has since evolved beyond simply being a pop-culture reference. The gesture has taken on a life and a language of its own and is now used as a powerful symbol by pro-democracy movements across the Milk-Tea nations, from Myanmar to Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and beyond.
How has Myanmar’s artistic community responded to the coup?
Myanmar’s artists were among those in the frontlines of the fight for democracy and freedom from repression. Many local artists who have been creating protest art since before the coup rose to the occasion and were very quickly joined by many amateur and professional artists using various media. Art is unifying and its impact and power transcends language, ethnicity and backgrounds.
How has daily life been impacted?
Nothing is normal. We’re now 4 months into the coup and over 800 people have been killed, including children. More than 4,000 people have been unjustly detained by the military.
Artists, graphic designers, filmmakers, poets, bloggers, actors, singers, and social media influencers are being targeted. Many artists have been detained, have warrants out for their arrest, and are in hiding, including our founders and artists we work with. Just this month, three poets were murdered. One was burned alive and another arrested and tortured in detention, with his body returned to his family the next day with internal organs removed.
In cities across Myanmar - like Mindat in Chin State and cities in Kayah State - thousands of people are being displaced as they flee air strikes and violence at the hands of the junta. Poverty levels are rising and many are facing increasingly dire circumstances without access to food, shelter, or medicine.
On top of these threats, the economy and banking sector are on the brink of collapse, and the people are experiencing frequent power cuts and Internet blackouts.Thousands have lost jobs, property and their meagre sources of livelihood. Millions are falling deeply into poverty and the whole country is facing a hunger crisis.
Though life goes on, the mental, physical, and emotional toll is severe. Despite it all, we keep fighting because going ‘back to normal’ is not good enough.
We understand there have been widespread internet blackouts, can you please tell us how this has effected your ability to communicate with your community in the country but also internationally?
It’s much harder to get in touch with people, to check in, and make sure they’re safe. It’s also worrying because it’s now a lot harder to get news out about what’s really happening in the country.
As news cycles shift and attention dwindles, we want to ensure Myanmar’s struggles are neither ignored nor forgotten; and that the people’s pleas for peace and democracy are heard.
Looking to the near future do you think Myanmar's creative community will remain in the country?
It’s clear that the junta sees art as a threat. If things don’t change for the better, Myanmar’s creative community will have no choice but to leave, or struggle and continue to work underground.
Censorship under a dictatorship will have a serious impact on the society in general, and the creative and media communities in particular.
Our function is to keep art alive, to keep the fighting spirit alive and build global solidarity for Myanmar artists.
Join the global salute at threefingers.org