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Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma (Exhibit opens)
Oct 3, 2012
Since 2007, refugees from Burma have represented Washington State’s fastest growing refugee community. Also, today in Washington D.C. Burma’s foremost democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma, a sobering exhibition organized by Refugee Youth Empowered, will open at
Seattle Art Museum on October 3, 2012. Displayed in SAM’s First Floor CommunityCorridor Gallery, never-before-seen paintings give voice to haunting memories, struggles and irrepressible hopes of refugee youth from Burma (Myanmar). The collection illustrates that emotions conveyed and evoked by a powerful “visual story,” or narrative image, can open hearts, build bridges of understanding, and promote peace and justice.
Since 2007, refugees from Burma have represented the fastest growing refugee community in the United States. In Washington State, refugees from around the world have expanded our worldview and enriched our communities with their diverse cultures. In this exhibit, stories by refugees from Burma – “told” in the universal language of visual art – sensitize viewers to the challenges and aspirations of those forced to flee.
Displacement and exile can be a way of life for refugees. Fleeing ethnic, religious, or political persecution, they lose family, home and a sense of belonging in search of refuge. Forced to Flee showcases original paintings by refugee and asylee youth from Burma who painted with watercolor crayons their answers to the following questions…
Why were you forced to flee?
What do you remember most about your journey to safety?
What is it like to live in exile (a refugee camp)?
What do you miss most about your native land?
What is your dream for the future?
What does “freedom” look like to you?
Recently, the Burmese government has begun to take steps towards democracy. Yet a wide range of issues continue to oppress and repress the people of Burma – especially in the country’s remote ethnic minority regions, beyond the spotlight of international attention. Some of the youths’ visual stories are hard to look at, including the burning of villages, killing of parents, abduction of siblings by soldiers conscripting new recruits.
Others are joyful, recalling everyday rural life before a child’s family was torn apart and forced to flee. Still others are hopeful, depicting the dreams of youth who long to one day return to their homeland, reunite with family, and help rebuild their country.
Each “storyteller” participated in a visual storytelling workshop facilitated by guest curator Erika Berg, her husband and their 11-year-old daughter along the Thai-Burma border, in India, or in King County. At first, the youth questioned why anyone would care about their lives. However, once they discovered that other youth had shared their stories, they began to believe that their voices not only mattered; even from afar, they were instrumental in supporting the democracy movement in Burma.
After viewing the exhibition, viewers will be invited to write or draw what “freedom” looks like to them. The most thought-provoking submissions will be posted to a website designed to increase awareness, mutual understanding, and support for refugees in Washington State, the United States, and beyond.
Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma offers viewers a child’s eye view of the uncertainty refugees face as they flee their homeland, struggle to find safety, and rebuild their lives. “The exhibit honors the courage, resilience, and determination of refugees,” says Berg. “We were privileged to work with brave youth and bear witness to the telling of their stories, stories that promise to help refugees everywhere.”
Erika Berg will present a three-part initiative inspired by the youths’ visual stories – Refugee Youth Empowered: Awareness, Outreach, and Leadership – at the Washington State Refugee Health Coalition Meeting on September 28, at the Bridge Conference on October 9, and at the Art & Social Change Symposium on October 13.
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