Friday, November 18, 2011

The Saffron Curtain Opens: Hope and Change in Burma

by Gregg Chadwick

Road to Mandalay
Gregg Chadwick
Road to Mandalay
40"x30" oil on linen 2011

“For decades Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people. The persecution of democratic reformers, the brutality shown toward ethnic minorities and the concentration of power in the hands of a few military leaders has challenged our conscience and isolated Burma from the United States and much of the world. After years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks as the president and Parliament in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, have taken steps toward reform.
Of course there’s far more to be done."
-President Barack Obama, November 2011
(Statement on Burma delivered at the 2011 Pacific Rim Meeting in Bali, Indonesia)

Four years after the Saffron Revolution in Burma, enough progress towards a free Burma has been made that President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a trip to the often troubled country next month. It has been more than fifty years since a secretary of state from the United States has visited Burma.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi After Her Release From House Arrest in 2010

Also announced today was the news that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most prominent human rights activist, would rejoin the political process and run for office in the upcoming special parliamentary election.

The New York Times writes that "the twin events underscored the remarkable and sudden pace of change in Myanmar, which has stunned observers inside and outside the country. The changes followed a transfer of power this year from a military junta to a nominally civilian government."

Four years ago, as Buddhist monks were bloodied and murdered by the brutal military junta, an outcry was spread by artists across the globe as we painted, drew, and stenciled images of Burmese monks. At that time I wrote that in solidarity we should all march, paint, write, meditate, work, pray, and hope, to create a free Burma. Today we are one step closer to that goal.

President Barack Obama has not forgotten the people of Burma. During his July 24, 2008 campaign speech in Berlin, Obama said, "Now the world will watch and remember what we do here – what we do with this moment. Will we extend our hand to the people in the forgotten corners of this world who yearn for lives marked by dignity and opportunity; by security and justice? Will we lift the child in Bangladesh from poverty, shelter the refugee in Chad, and banish the scourge of AIDS in our time? Will we stand for the human rights of the dissident in Burma, the blogger in Iran, or the voter in Zimbabwe? Will we give meaning to the words “never again” in Darfur?"

President Obama's words are a call to action for all of us. It is easy to criticize from the relative safety of a computer screen. It is much more difficult to dive into the maelstrom of events and create art that inspires. I recently presented lectures on Art and Social Justice at UCLA and Monterey Peninsula College. My painting, Road to Mandalay, provided a key element in the presentations.

President Obama was presented with a personally requested book of my paintings at a Pentagon dinner in 2009. My good friend from UCLA, Adrienne Thompson attended the event where she hand delivered the book to President Obama and witnessed Barack and first lady Michelle Obama as they pored through the paintings. Today, I am honored to say that the President's favorite painting of mine is Road to Mandalay.

Perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could take my painting Road to Mandalay with her and present it as gift to the courageous people of Burma.


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