In 2021, Myanmar faced one of its darkest periods in history. Despite prior steps towards democracy, the nation found itself gripped by a military coup. The military junta’s crackdown was ruthlessly severe, leading to the tragic loss of countless innocent lives. As the junta’s stranglehold grew tighter, visible street protests became a rarity. The atmosphere turned repressive, casting a veil of silent fear.

Yet, in this stifling environment, where voices of dissent were perilously quieted, a whisper of resistance arose — art4cdm. This collective of artists, poets, and storytellers sought to shine a light in the darkest corners, using comics, poems, and narratives as their medium. Working discreetly under the radar, they crafted tales of resilience and hope.

“The junta wants us to not be united… but through art, we find unity.”

The sentiment shared by the collective’s leader speaks to the ethos of art4cdm. They sought unity amidst a divided nation, offering solace to those reeling from the junta’s violence. While armed resistance is described as an undeniable strategy to assert political pressure, art4cdm represents another facet of Myanmar’s multifaceted pushback against tyranny. Through art, they echo the spirit of a people determined to pen their own narrative, no matter the odds.

art4cdm: Hope in Resistance

Post-coup in Myanmar, the oppressive grip of the junta regime led to a decline in overt public resistance due to the violent crackdowns. Nevertheless, it couldn’t extinguish the undying spirit of rebellion that persisted within the hearts of many.

The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) emerged as a grassroots resistance movement in this condition. At its core, the CDM hinged on a non-violent refusal to cooperate with the junta, especially among public servants and workers. By abstaining from work, they disrupted essential services, exerting economic strain on the military leadership. Yet, this form of protest was not without its costs; participants grappled with threats, arrests, and financial challenges.

In the midst of this, art4cdm stepped in to offer CDM civil servants both a voice and a lifeline. By commissioning art-based works, they not only amplified the suppressed voices but also provided financial relief. Art, whether as comics, poems, or narratives, emerged as a beacon of hope, channeling the emotions and sentiments of a people under siege.

“It’s beyond politics; it’s about expression.”

Their mission was twofold: to provide a platform for artistic expressions that resonated with the struggles of the Myanmar people and to ensure these narratives reached a global audience, highlighting the continuation of  non-violent facets of the resistance. Understanding the various dimensions of resistance shaping the landscape of Myanmar, art4cdm positioned itself to complement, not undermine, other forms of defiance. Their aim was clear: to shine a light on the stories and emotions that might otherwise remain in the shadows.

Art as Medium for Healing and Inspiring

In Myanmar, amidst the chaotic aftermath of the coup, the narrative was dominated by the junta’s violent actions. Mainstream news often overlooks the  various nuanced forms of resistance that emerged, deeply rooted in the country’s culture, history, and resilience. The country had its silent warriors: artists who turned their pain, fear, and hope into compelling stories. 

The art4cdm initiative was not just about chronicling the ongoing events or taking a stand against the junta. It was a therapeutic outlet. The collective became a sanctuary where individuals could heal, process their trauma, and dream of a democratic Myanmar.

“It’s therapeutic. It helps to process our trauma. And then it’s also, it’s resistance. So this is how we resist.”

While the world witnessed the brutality on the streets of Myanmar, many didn’t see the quiet resilience of artists behind closed doors. The art pieces emerging from these confinements did not just depict the political turmoil, but also the personal traumas, fears, hopes, and dreams of a beleaguered people.

 A standout initiative was their comic series, which not only captured the harsh realities of life under the junta but also humanized the stories of ordinary people. The characters weren’t just figures on a page; they were representations of real-life struggles and aspirations.

“We had a comic where the protagonists, who used to be a medical technician and a police officer, realized that they cannot survive inside Myanmar anymore and keep supporting the Junta. They decided to move out of the country and then start a new life, a new profession. Now, they’re sustainable, they’re still in the fight, they’re still contributing back to the Spring Revolution in any ways that they can.”

For art4cdm, who has been helping the junta’s soldiers and police to defect and join the CDM by providing them with the tools and resources to start a new career, this comic serves as a success story that can hopefully inspire more people to join the revolution. And the power of their comics went beyond the boundaries of Myanmar, creating waves of empathy and understanding. The art pieces not only served as therapeutic outlets for creators but also as educational and eye-opening experiences for not only their fellow Myanmar citizens but also international audiences, creating bridges of understanding and solidarity.

 By focusing on mediums like comics, poems, and narrative stories, art4cdm harnessed the evocative power of art to defy the oppressors in a manner that went beyond mere slogans or protests. Every piece was a testament to their spirit and a signal of their determination to create a different future for Myanmar.

Navigating the Risks and Challenges

In a country overshadowed by the junta’s oppression, art4cdm and its community confront profound challenges. Their art, more than just a creative expression, becomes a daring testament to dissent, and with such courage comes peril.

“Every artist who’s a part of us knows the risk. Our art, while silent, speaks loudly against the oppression, and that isn’t taken lightly by those in power.”

Art4cdm’s challenges aren’t just artistic. The mere act of dissent can have severe repercussions, making the safety and anonymity of every artist crucial. Aware of the digital realm’s dual nature, they’ve equipped themselves with knowledge to navigate its intricacies safely.

“We’ve had to learn so much about digital security in such a short time. It’s not just about protecting our work but protecting our lives.”

Meetings, when they happen, are discreet, with collaborations often facilitated through secure means, reflecting the evolving nature of resistance in a digital era. Yet, amidst these challenges, the spirit of resistance and the passion for art remains undimmed. If anything, the hurdles they face have only strengthened their resolve. The community is not just bound by their shared love for art, but by their collective dream of a free Myanmar.

“Every challenge reminds us why we started this in the first place. Our art is our voice, and no amount of repression can take that away.”

By continuously adapting and learning, art4cdm ensures that the flame of resistance, fanned by the winds of artistic expression, continues to burn bright in the darkest of times.

Dream of A Free Myanmar

The inception of art4cdm might have been in response to immediate political turmoil, but their aspirations stretch far beyond the current landscape. The collective envisions a time when their art not only plays a role in resistance but also in shaping and celebrating a free and thriving Myanmar.

“Our movement might have started with protest, but we dream of continuing our movement in a free Myanmar.” 

As they move forward, art4cdm has its sights set on becoming a beacon for artists across Myanmar. More than a space of resistance, they aim to be a hub of collaboration, learning, and open expression, contributing actively to Myanmar’s anticipated cultural revival.

But such aspirations come with their fair share of challenges and the need for extended support.

“We need the world to know. Every share, every conversation sparked by our art, adds to our momentum.”

The global community’s engagement offers numerous ways to amplify art4cdm’s message. Sharing their work across platforms can highlight their cause, while financial and resource contributions could empower the collective further. Collaborating with international artists and collectives could also open up new horizons and strengthen the bonds of the global artistic community.

“It’s not always about funding. Knowing that there’s someone out there, acknowledging our fight and our art, it fuels our spirit.”

 Looking ahead, art4cdm hopes for a Myanmar that is remembered not just for its struggles but for its resilience, culture, and the unwavering spirit of its people. With sustained efforts and global support, they believe this vision can transition from canvas to reality.

Keeping art4cdm Alive

When diving deep into the emotions, challenges, and rewards associated with running art4cdm, the journey becomes a poignant narrative. The very essence of this endeavor resonates with their personal experiences and aspirations. 

However, the weight of leading such a movement has never been lost. With every artwork shared, there’s a juxtaposition of emotions – from pride in the collective’s accomplishments to anxiety over the potential repercussions.

 “Every piece of art that we put out is both an act of defiance and an open vulnerability. But in that vulnerability, there’s strength.”

 The hurdles of leading art4cdm have been multifaceted. From ensuring the anonymity of the artists to facing the heart-wrenching reality of the risks involved, the emotional toll has been palpable. Yet, amidst these challenges, there have been unparalleled rewards. The sense of community, unity, and purpose within art4cdm has brought forth moments of profound joy and determination.

“When I see my fellow citizens find solace through their creations, or when someone tells us that our art touched them, it reaffirms our purpose. We’re not just creating art; we’re trying to spread a message.”

The founder’s journey with art4cdm is a testament to the transformative power of art and collective resilience. Through their personal reflections, it becomes evident that the spirit of resistance and hope, encapsulated in art4cdm, is a deeply personal endeavor, yet one that resonates with many. 

Artivism: Art Beyond Aesthetics

Artivism, a powerful amalgamation of art and activism, has long held the power to inspire, confront, and challenge societal norms. At its core, it’s a tool, a language of resistance that transcends boundaries and connects hearts. Art4cdm epitomizes this spirit, using artivism as a clarion call for justice and freedom in Myanmar. Art4cdm emerges as more than just an artistic collective; it stands as a voice echoing from the heart of Myanmar, demanding our attention and understanding.

The tales, poems, and comics birthed by art4cdm aren’t just artistic expressions; they’re firsthand accounts of a community’s resilience and resistance. Their work offers a rare window into the intricate fabric of Myanmar’s socio-political landscape. Through their artistry, we’re granted a chance to grasp the gravity of what’s at stake and the deep-rooted aspirations of a people.

For those of us outside of Myanmar, it’s incumbent upon us to truly listen, learn, and lend our support. Amplifying art4cdm’s message isn’t just about sharing their art; it’s about endorsing their cause, backing the campaigns they champion, and urging our own governments to take notice of the situation and act. The power of collective global pressure can bring about tangible change, and it starts with each of us taking that first step to be informed and involved.

Furthermore, supporting art4cdm isn’t solely about appreciating art; it’s about aligning with a larger global narrative of justice, freedom, and resistance. Each comic, narrative, or poem from their collective is a call for action. As global citizens, we have the responsibility to respond, advocate, and ensure that the pleas from Myanmar don’t fade into a mere whisper in the records of history. 

In the story of art4cdm, we are reminded that art’s power extends beyond aesthetics—it has the ability to move mountains, change minds, and, most importantly, touch hearts. Let us stand with Myanmar, echoing their message louder, clearer, and with unwavering conviction.

*A new work is coming from art4cdm, a booklet titled ‘Bloodied but Unbowed‘. The booklet is a compilation of ten short stories written by women activists from Myanmar who are participating in the Spring Revolution. They shed light on the ongoing political, social movements in Myanmar and their plight to end military rule. For more information about the booklet, please visit here.