Smuggled works by more than a dozen dissident Myanmar artists are to be sold at auction in New York City, with proceeds from the sale providing humanitarian aid to pro-democracy protestors in the junta-controlled Southeast Asian county.
The auction, which will be held from 9-11 December at Jane Lombard Gallery in lower Manhattan, will be followed by an online auction overseen by the gallery and taking place from 11-13 December.
The works on show were made by dissident pro-democracy Myanmar artists in hiding, and have been smuggled out of the country without detection by the controlling military junta.
“We need to gain peace in Myanmar forever,” a painter contributing to the auction says of the political situation in the country of their birth. The artist, like the others on show, cannot disclose their name in fear of retribution from the authoritarian military junta who control the country.
The military junta took power of Myanmar in a coup on 1 February 2021. Since then, pro-democracy protests have swept across the country.
As of 8 December, 1,318 civilians have been killed during violent crackdowns on the pro-democracy movement, including 93 women, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) non-profit human rights organisation. More than 10,200 people have been detained, including over 2,000 women.
Human rights groups have detailed how the military junta in Myanmar has used disappearances and hostage-taking to try and quell protests and intimidate political activists, while also subjecting those detained to torture, rape and other form of abuse.
“Every day we strive for a better life,” the artist says. “Artists are peacemakers, and we do hope that by gentle and constructive behaviour, we can implement change.”
Myanmar’s civil disobedience movement was formed by people of many professions, including artists, to defy the dictatorship. At its peak, an estimated 650,000 people have refused to work for the junta, paralysing many sectors of the economy.
Yet this has forced the artists and their families to face extreme financial difficulties.
“The coup has had a tremendously negative impact on Myanmar’s cultural life,” says one of the auction's organisers. “The artists have been using their skills to create paintings, sculptures and handicrafts while in hiding.”
Against this backdrop, bringing the artworks out of the crisis-stricken country, “has truly been a team effort,” the organiser says.
“We have been fortunate to partner with [reliable] people inside and outside of Myanmar who gathered all the pieces from all over the country and successfully transported them to New York City.”
The proceeds will be channelled back to Myanmar to provide humanitarian aid to pro-democracy activists.
“We hope that this will be one of many more fundraising events displaying the strength, talents, and struggle of the Myanmar people,” they say.
The works on sale span numerous media and variously depict Myanmar heritage sites, monasteries and landscapes.
The online event will open with songs, poetry readings and speeches. The auction will feature both Myanmar and international contributors. More information can be found here.