As Burma emerges from political isolation there has been an explosion of artistic expression across the country.
Before, there were strict controls on what you could do on stage, but now artists are seeing a relaxation of the rules. Meanwhile, their changing country is providing them with plenty of inspiration.
Burma’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, recently reunited with his troupe, Thee Lay Thee (The Four Fruits), and is enjoying exploring this new-found freedom.
Although he has been jailed four times for criticising the government, Zarganar continues to push the boundaries.
“In our country the military automatically occupy 25 percent of the seats in parliament. So I would like to ask the president to give our comedians 25 percent of the seats too!” he jests.
Zarganar’s work has always had a political edge and his new project is a dance routine that was choreographed in response to the ongoing civil wars and ethnic conflicts raging across the country. The comedian chose dancers from all different backgrounds.
“They must be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu so we can say there is unity in diversity,” Zarganar says, adding that this concept is important for the country’s nascent democracy.
Comedian Kye Thee is also a member of Thee Lay Thee. He recently returned to Rangoon after several years in exile in Thailand.
“As a comedian I have a duty to say what I think,” he says. “I don’t care if I am arrested for it. Maybe one day they will come and arrest me, but I can’t predict what is going to happen in the future.”
With a grin, he adds: “Comedians are better than politicians because people listen to us.”
Zarganar recognizes that the country’s democratic transition is still in its infancy and that the reform process will take time.
“Now we have just a little bit of freedom in our country, not full freedom,” he says. “Our country is now only two years old, so it is just taking baby steps.”