How art can help bring focus to the situation in Myanmar

The art exhibition ‘And Until We Meet Again’ is a photographic prayer for Myanmar by Revd Susan McIvor who has visited the country six times since 1999. Her photos are a testimony to the people in Myanmar.

19 June 2024

The people in Myanmar have been living in a country under civil war for the past 60 years. The volatile situation in the country has made ethnic and religious minorities more vulnerable than ever before. The 2021 military coup made the situation worst, particularly for the Chin community – a minority of minorities who inhabit Chin State, the foothills of the Chin Hills and along the Chindwin River. Many are Christians and some are Methodists.

"I was asked in my first year in ministry to host ‘a visitor from Burma’, Dr Than Bil Luai, director of the Wesley Hospital in Kalay. We have been friends since,” remembers Revd Susan McIvor. Since that meeting, she has visited Methodist churches in Myanmar six times and taken more than 5,000 photos.

Since the 2021 military coup, Susan has been wondering how to raise awareness and empathy, and to encourage prayer and action to support the people of Myanmar. She concluded the thousands of photos she took over the years would be a great way to bring Myanmar alive for people in Britain.

Susan undertook a course in photo sequencing in 2023 and created a photographic prayer book with more than a hundred photos. The book is based on the traditional Irish blessing 'May the road rise to meet you'.

“In one of the chapters, I use a conversation I had with a friend in Myanmar to show the impact of the civil war on their life,” explains Susan. Yet, it did not feel enough, or rather, it felt like a start and, from publishing the book, came the idea for an exhibition.

Susan undertook the course 'Writing for Photography', to help develop her thinking and ways to talk about the images. Susan says, “I have created audio recordings with QR codes to accompany the photos for the exhibition. This has increased interaction with the photos, giving people some context and why I think the photograph is important. I also devised a short 'visio divina' to help people pray using the images, including one for children/young people.”

First exhibition and Thuama’s testimony

The first exhibition opened on 11 May 2024 at the Rivergreen Methodist Hub in Clifton in the Nottingham and Derby District. Three of Susan’s friends from Myanmar joined the launch, among them Thuama and his wife Ma Chit. Thuama is a layperson and is studying for a PhD in theology.

Thuama says, “Since the 2021 coup the estimated death toll is at least 50,000 including 8,000 civilians, according to the ReliefWeb. Nearly 3 million people have been displaced from their homes according to the UN. Villages were burnt and people fled for their lives, including my village.  Some of our Methodist church buildings and pastor quarters in Tamu and Kalemyo townships were burnt to ashes.

“No future for the children and the youth; no schools, no education, no job opportunities. Lots of young people have left and are trying to leave the country as the military passed the law of mandatory people’s service imposing conscription.

“The world seems to have forgotten this civil war raging in Myanmar while thousands of young people are still risking death and sacrificing their youth to fight the military that has deposed an elected government and stolen their future.

“The book offers a profound prayer for the poor and the ‘nobodies’ from the poorest parts of one of the poorest countries in the world. The book will shine a light on the ongoing revolution and the sufferings of the people in Myanmar.”

‘And Until We Meet Again’ on tour in the UK

The exhibition opened at the Victoria Hall in Bolton in the Bolton & Rochdale Methodist District on Sunday 2 June. 

From 14 July 2024, the exhibition will be at The Triangle Methodist Community Church, also in the Bolton & Rochdale Methodist District. It will be there for four weeks.

If your church is interested in hosting the exhibition, please contact Revd Susan McIvor at photoprayermyanmar@gmail.com