All photos from the sequence Of Solongs and Ashes © Min Ma Naing
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Referencing an EE Cummings poem, Of Solongs and Ashes brings to thoughts the fleetingness of life – and recollections of the nation the artist was pressured to flee
In June 2021, Min Ma Naing was pressured to flee her house in Yangon, Myanmar. She was working for an NGO supporting native photographers and filmmakers, and risked arrest following a army coup three months earlier and the next media crackdown.
“They focused nearly everybody,” the documentary photographer says. Naing’s sister, a painter who was elevating cash for the revolution, had been arrested in April 2021 and remained imprisoned for six months. When Naing was accepted on the Students at Danger programme at Cornell College within the US, she had no selection however to take the chance.
“Leaving my mum whereas my sister was in jail was very tough. However for us at the moment, it was the one manner out. A minimum of one individual needed to be protected,” Naing says. For safety causes, Naing was solely in a position to inform her mom and one buddy; she left her group with out the prospect to say a correct goodbye.
In New York, Naing lived in 4 totally different homes. “I by no means felt settled,” she says. “Every time I met new individuals, they requested, ‘Why are you right here?’ At the moment, I actually didn’t need to speak about it. I shut down from social media, the images trade… I used to be in a extremely deep melancholy.”
Prompted by her therapist, she began a visible diary. Of Solongs and Ashes emerged from this course of, as a approach to “maintain a reminiscence”. Its title references the ultimate line of EE Cummings’ poem into the strenuous briefness, which alludes to the fleetingness of life. Making photos that evoked her longings – “tea-leaf salad with dried beef, hasty hugs, mango ice cream, mum’s dry fingers” – grew to become a approach to course of the loneliness, and likewise the guilt of leaving her household.
“Images from her final days in Myanmar are dispersed by way of the sequence, like a delicate call-and-response between the previous and current”
Images from her final days in Myanmar are dispersed by way of the sequence, like a delicate call-and-response between the previous and current. Recollections will be fickle, and Naing’s photos embody their ephemeral high quality – as if they’re reaching for a selected second in time, out of worry it’d at some point fade.
The work is deeply private, however it is usually a part of her ongoing curiosity in collective trauma, the Burmese diaspora, and life after the coup. The 39-year-old began out as a press photographer, however earlier than that, she was a instructor’s coach. Rising up beneath a dictatorship, “it was fairly onerous for [my generation] to know what our pursuits have been. We didn’t have numerous alternatives, so I didn’t know what I used to be fascinated with till I discovered images,” she says.
However when Naing first picked up a camera, it was not as a interest or for inventive pursuits. Reasonably, it was for safety. She was in Hong Kong finding out for an MA in training. In keeping with Naing, in Myanmar it’s “taboo” for girls to go to parks, as they’re broadly presumed to be hubs for prostitution. In Hong Kong, Naing was free to benefit from the metropolis’s inexperienced areas. Nevertheless, she nonetheless encountered issues. “We [the Burmese] are overly pleasant,” she explains. “Individuals misinterpreted my smiles, and males approached me with their cellphone numbers. They thought I used to be a Filipino housekeeper, or that I used to be wanting for a second job as a intercourse employee.”
To keep away from unsolicited advances, she purchased a camera and pretended to be a vacationer, and what started as a easy disguise shortly was a severe vocation. After pursuing a profession as a photojournalist, since leaving Myanmar she has transitioned to engaged on long-form private tales.
Naing has accomplished the safety programme within the US and is briefly with out a base. The long run stays unsure – for herself and her house nation. The artist reveals that Min Ma Naing is a pseudonym she adopted for safety. Named after her housing complicated again in Myanmar, it means ‘the king can’t beat you’. The title is a poignant nod to her longing for house and the nation’s political scenario – an embodiment of private and collective resistance towards hardship.
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