Ahnu Thutaythana Festival and Exhibition 

The Ahnu Thutaythana Festival and Exhibition was conceived as a way of bringing arts, research, and advocacy to public and political attention in Myanmar. A key challenge early on was how to communicate the notion of interdisciplinary collaboration and commitment to changing the country’s social, cultural, and political landscape. As Myat Thet Thitsar tells it, there is no such phrase or concept in Myanmar society or language; so it had to be created! Hence, Ahnu Thutaythana. Loosely translated into English as ‘arts and research’, visitors to event were quick to comment that the concept is far richer, more complex, and emotionally galvanising, than this simplistic translation conveys.

A series of press releases and online video teasers, accompanied by advertisements in and around Yangon, generated strong media and public attention – attracting approximately 500 people to the Ahnu Thutaythana Festival and Exhibition, held at the Secretariat in Yangon, between 30th November and 3rd December 2019. The theme of the festival was “Integrating Democracy into Everyday Actions (IDEAs), and we were thrilled to have P4P Grant awardee Ma Thida Sanchaung, a member of PEN International, as our keynote speaker. The event activities included panel discussions, book launches, film screenings, and an exhibition. Topics under consideration included pursuing arts in research, political representation, freedom of expression, and experiences of discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion by women, ethnic minorities, and those living on the borders.

Fathers held young sons aloft so that they might better see and read the comic illustrations about women’s exclusions from politics. Children beckoned their parents to wait while they read slowly and with deep concentration the vision of Ahnu Thutaythana displayed on large yellow boards in blue text, in English and Burmese. During a particularly moving talk about genocide – a highly sensitive topic to be broached in public in Myanmar, and one which the team agonised about moving forward with– the hall was packed with people comprising the full gamut of the country’s ethnic, religious, and regional diversity.

One of the team member’s notes read as follows: “We couldn’t know for sure what would happen, how people would react, whether we would be shut down by the security forces. The mood in the team was one of anxiety beforehand. Then something happened. Or more accurately: there was a sense of something silent but seismic happening, a shift in perception, attitude, belief perhaps. Bodies leaned forward in chairs, faces strained with attention, heads nodded in agreement, the fatigue brought on by humidity was displaced by a quiet effervescence and a will to action. Anything is possible. Everything is possible. Myanmar’s future is bright.”

Ahnu Thutaythana Festival and Exhibition, 30 Nov – 3 Dec 2019

Myat Thet Thitsar (EMReF) introducing the ‘Ahnu Thutaythana’ concept and event

PEN Myanmar’s vox-pops explore freedom of expression and hate speech, and was inspired by their participation in the ‘Unlocking Creative Potentials of Research’ workshop in Yangon in June 2019. 


လွတ်လပ်စွာ ရေးသားထုတ်ဖော်ပြောဆိုခွင့်နဲ့ပတ်သက်ပြီး ဘယ်လောက်နားလည်ထားသလဲလို့ ပြည်သူတွေကို မေးကြည့်လိုက်တဲ့အခါ…

Gepostet von PEN Myanmar am Dienstag, 24. Dezember 2019

‘Now I can smile’ reflects on the power of everyday democracy to overturn racial, ethnic, religious intolerance. It was inspired by the White Rose campaign (Myanmar Now; Mizzima.com; Global Voices).


RIPE in the Context of Covid-19

The project originally ran for a period of one year in 2019 but was granted an extension in order to generate greater breadth of awareness and advocacy around inequalities in Myanmar society and politics. Social attitudes and judgements against perceived ‘others’ are critical in reproducing hierarchies of rights and belonging that lead to inequality. This stems in part from the way in which knowledge is produced, and who is responsible for producing this knowledge. Pre-covid, the project team sought to explore how systems and structures of knowledge production across Myanmar create the basis for exclusion, intolerance, and misunderstanding about others; and to represent these through creative collaborations, in the pursuit of peace and justice.

With Covid-19 the fragility and vulnerability of life has been brought even more sharply into focus than before. From the pandemic’s assault on migrant livelihoods, to the increased scope that governments and militaries now have to act with impunity, human rights and democracy remain under the microscope. ‘The role of civil society is more important now than ever. We must raise our voices to ensure there is equitable access to resources for everyone, and to continue holding our leaders to account’ states Myat Thet Thitsar, Executive Director of Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation.

EMReF, and their network of colleagues, associates, and friends across Myanmar are responding to the unanticipated coronavirus pandemic by exploring lived experiences in the context of covid. Through telephone conversations and online communication channels, the RIPE team will map the effects of the pandemic across the country’s states and regions in partnership with local artists, who will then produce artworks based on lived experience as part of an online exhibition entitled ‘Life Across Myanmar in the Context of Covid’.