A traveling exhibition of photographs entitled
Life on the Border: The Karen People of Burma
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 22th, 2011
Visiting Artist Lecture Tuesday October 4, 2011
7:00pm Ronk Lecture Hall-Schar
September 22th through October 14th
Against Global Indifferences: Awakening to Action Symposium Event
A traveling exhibition of 30 photographs entitled Life on the Border: The Karen People of Burma. The photographs themselves are silver gelatin prints made on 16"x20" fiber-based paper, with an actual image size of 12"x18"
The town of Mae Sot, Thailand lays along the eastern bank of the Moei River, an eight-hour overnight bus journey from Bangkok. Across the Moei from Mae Sot is the military controlled country of Burma, and the "Friendship Bridge" which spans the river at Mae Sot makes the town an important point for anyone wishing to cross between the two countries. But there is more to this remote border town then first meets the eye. Besides the shops that line the streets and back alleys of Mae Sot, there is also a large, clandestine world: that of the Karen People.
Since 1948, the Karen, whose state lies just within Burma across the Moei River from Mae Sot, have been fighting a civil was against the Burmese military junta for independence for their areas. But this continuous warfare has come at a very high price for the Karen People: an uncountable number of dead and wounded, the destruction of countless Karen villages as the Burmese junta tries to put down the Karen, and hundreds of thousands of Karen refugees streaming across the Moei River into Thailand to escape the fighting. When they arrive in Thailand, the refugees have two choices – 1.) they are either forced to live legally in the squalor of various overcrowded United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) camps, or 2.) they can risk staying illegally, with a constant battle both to hide from the Thai authorities who will deport them if caught, and, at the same time, avoid the numerous unscrupulous employers who attempt to exploit them because of their status as unregistered aliens.
From mid-February to mid-March of 2006 I photographed in and around the town of Mae Sot in order to document the lives of the Karen people who are living in Thailand. I originally traveled to the Mae Sot area in order to photograph the Mae Tao Clinic, which is run by Dr. Cynthia Maung, a Burmese refugee and Nobel Prize Nominee, who runs the clinic in order to care for her fellow countrymen who have fled Burma. She had invited me to visit subsequent to my contact with her after reading a post on the internet about the clinic, and what was transpiring there. So in order to see the situation first hand, I self-financed the expense of the project, and traveled to photograph the clinic. But upon my arrival, and along with help from my guide and translator, Maung Maung Tinn, I expanded my project to photograph not only the clinic operations, but also the lives of the Karen in and around Mae Sot.
Maung Maung Tinn took it upon himself to show me areas of Mae Sot where the Karen live and work, and where few Westerns travel when in the area. With his help, I also made an extensive network of contact along the Thai/Burma border. These contacts enabled me to gain access to still more places where the Karen are trying to put their lives together again.
The photographs in this body of work are the result of the Karen People granting me the rare privilege of access to their personal lives. Without their trust allowing me into their world, this project would not have been possible. In the hopes that my photographs may help their situation on the border, I have also allowed the Mae Tao Clinic, and various other people involved with the Karen, permission to use my photographs to raise awareness of the Karen and the problems they face on a daily basis. And I have also maintained contact with many of the people that befriended me along the border with the hope of one day being able to return and continue to photograph the lives of the forgotten Karen.