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Double Exposure: Art and The Rohingya

Photographs by Mike Tan

Photographs by Mike Tan

After reading about the atrocities happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar, I wondered if any artists had created works in response to the crisis. Most of the sources I found were articles, and aside from photojournalism, I didn’t see a lot of art. Then I stumbled upon the works of Mike Tan.

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group located in Burma facing a situation what many consider to be an ethnic cleansing. Over half a million Rohingya have fled horrific treatment in Myanmar, sixty percent of whom are children and the majority of them stateless.  Mike Tan is an artist and the founder of Floating Children, a refugee school that provides support and education for some of these children. His recent series “Double Exposure” is meant to create a personal narrative of Rohingya refugee children. When the series is finished he will create a photo book to fundraise for his school, Floating Children.

© Floating Children 2017

© Floating Children 2017

Tan started by asking the children to draw whatever they wanted so that they could craft a part in their own narrative. Tan described the drawings as:

“More truthful and more revealing than any text I could have written up.”

Some of them are violent and show what these refugees have been through. One drawing features a gun, another a knife. One shows a body lying in a pool of blood. One of them even has an inverted flag, a symbol of the confusion of nationality and statelessness that many Rohingya children face.

Photograph by Mike Tan

Photograph by Mike Tan

Tan then combined these drawings with photographs of the children. Artistically, the combination is intriguing, but what really drew me to Tan’s series was how personal they felt. To see the juxtaposition of pictures of the children against the drawings that created is, to me, incredibly powerful. While I cannot begin to comprehend what these children have gone through, Tan’s works provide a powerfully personal link to the stories of the Rohingya refugee children.

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September 28, 2017
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