This Exhibition Has Ended

August 31, 2021
September 26, 2021
In the Bowers Gallery, Floor 1

Min Ma Naing is a personal documentary photographer from Myanmar, who was based in Yangon until recently. Starting out as a press photographer, she realized that short-term assignments were not for her and she decided to focus on stories around love and hatred. She co-founded a photographer collective for women in Myanmar and makes photobooks as art objects for herself and the collective. She has adopted the temporary pseudonym “Min Ma Naing” (meaning “The King Cannot Beat You”) because of the political situation in Myanmar.

Faces of Change was supported by National Geographic and Oxfam, Myanmar. It is presented at the Johnson Museum in collaboration with Cornell’s Southeast Asia Program.

Artist’s Statement

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s army nullified the results of the November 2020 election, seized power, and abruptly sank the coup-prone country back into a retrograde military dictatorship. Myanmar’s political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested.

The army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, declared himself dictator. The military generals who throttled Myanmar’s fledgling democratic experiment in the wee hours of February 1 may not have counted on a major public backlash against their coup.

For the first few days, Myanmar’s population of more than 54 million people seemed stunned into silence. But by the fourth day, after police raids and arrests began, people flooded the streets in peaceful protests led by the youth of this conservative, largely Buddhist nation. Even older citizens—who had endured five decades of ruthless military dictatorships and had tasted some freedoms during the past decade of hybrid democratic rule—joined in resisting with exuberant fury.

Within days, the military and police began shooting unarmed protesters. As of August 18, 2021, there are 1,007 people who have been confirmed killed and 5,747 people who have been detained, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners. It has been reported in international and local media outlets that some women activists in custody have been tortured and sexually harassed.

Faces of Change presents intimate portraits of brave people who have resisted: individuals who are participating in the revolution and—as strangers acting in unison—radically changing their country’s history.

This gallery of ordinary people—at an extraordinary juncture in their lives—aims to bring a needed counterpoint perspective to the imagery of Myanmar’s Spring Revolution as seen on the news.  

—Min Ma Naing

On view

Businesswoman, 32

My mom always talks about the hardships she faced during the last big uprising against the Myanmar military in 1988. She was four months pregnant with me. She was starving. She and her brother tried to escape to her hometown of Myitkyina without a train ticket, because they didn't have money. She lived on a broken-down train for five days while she was on the run. They faced death. She says I might have to face this all over again. She told me, 'You survived while you were still in my belly in the last revolution, but now you'll have to look after yourself.'

Members of the Burma Federation of Trade Unions march toward Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon on February 14, 2021. Thousands of protesters across Myanmar demonstrate against the military coup.