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As headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the Sino-Burmese border town of Laiza has seen its share of conflict in recent years. The town has practically been under siege by Burmese government forces since 2011; and while Kachin refugees flooded in, humanitarian aid convoys were denied access. As recently as January, townsfolk were forced to run for cover as mortar shells rained down while fighter jets circled the skies.
It seems as unlikely a venue as you could imagine for an international arts studio to open. But that is exactly what happened on Tuesday just a couple of days ahead of peace talks between the KIO and the Burmese government in Kachin state capital Myitkyina.
Originally based in Chiang Mai, Documentary Arts Asia is a non-governmental organisation that supports and features the work of documentary-makers and artists in Asia. The new centre, located in the Laiza public library, will provide resources for those wishing to exhibit documentary art in Laiza – from front-line commanders recording the sorrow of war to NGOs striving to publicise human rights abuses, environmental devastation or human interest stories
“I hope this centre and its various programs will develop many Kachin who are very capable of and hungry to tell the amazing stories they see around them all the time with still and moving images”, said founder Ryan Libre.
Laiza’s new Documentary Arts Asia centre was inaugurated with a speech by Gen. Gam Shawng, the chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army, who roused his audience by saying that “nowadays, media is more powerful than guns”.
This centre is dedicated to Naw Ming, a Kachin film director and journalist who was shot and paralyzed while covering the conflict. The first exhibition at the centre will be “Nomads no more” by Taylor Weidman.
Photos by Ryan Libre, Linh Pham & Non Tiddin