For the people of Myanmar, history is repeating itself once again. On the 1st of February 2021, the Myanmar military stormed the parliament building, taking control of the country in another military coup.
Myanmar, also known as Burma and located in South East Asia, shares its borders with Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948 and from 1962 to 2011 has been ruled by the Myanmar Military, also known as the Tatmadaw.
Following a landslide victory in 2020 the military seized control of the country placing Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected leaders in custody. 5 years of relative peace ended, while millions poured onto the streets in protest.
Mirroring the scenes from the protest movements of 1988 and the Saffron revolution in 2007, where civilian uprisings against military rule ended in brutal violence. Burmese idealists are being murdered on the streets of Yangon, Mandalay and throughout the rest of the country. A mass Civil Disobedience movement has begun. Ethnic groups, many of whom are in active conflict with the military, are joining the protesters and supporting the movement. So far over 200 unarmed civilians have been killed.
The ’Burmese’ who have dominated the country and first gave it its Colonial name, have, for the most part, supported the military in its various conflicts against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. They are now seeing the barrels of military rifles being pointed at them. Demands are being made by the various protesting groups. An end to ‘Burmanisation’ and military rule. A real federal democracy. The release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and for the abolishment of the 2008 military drafted constitution.
Amongst the chaos there is still hope for a unified and dignified future for Myanmar.
‘Spit Gold Onto An Empire’ is a long-term photographic study of Myanmar during the period between its two recent, historic democratic elections. A period of hope for a country which now lies in ruins. A window into a country, which is once again being sealed off from the outside world. Ogilvie explores Myanmar’s rich ethnic diversity, which has long been the cause of violent civil conflict and continues to form the central themes of Myanmar’s political and social narratives.
Over 132 ethnic groups inhabit the mountainous border regions many of whom have been in active conflict with the Myanmar military since the end of the second world war. Many of these ethnic divisions are a result of British colonial policy. The project reveals the scars left by years of British Imperialism, swiftly followed by 60 years of brutal military dictatorship. The legacies of which weigh heavy on its people. The work draws heavily from British colonial literature, placing modern issues in a post-colonial context. Much of Myanmar’s layered history lies crumbling in plain sight. Decaying yet tangible and ready to be explored.
Ogilvie tells a story of Myanmar through its people. Its soldiers, nuns, peasants, gold miners, circus performers, mahouts, fishermen, monks and priests. He visits the headquarters of the Shan State Army, one of Myanmar’s largest Ethnic Armed Organisations, who also control vast areas of the infamous ‘Golden Triangle’. The second largest heroin producing region in the world.
We glimpse the gem markets of Mandalay, Hindu fire walking festivals in Yangon and Spend Christmas in Chin State. He Takes us through leper colonies nestled into the jungles and into the homes of 2nd World War Veterans who fought with British and American soldiers along the Burma Road.
In Kachin State he sees the devastation caused by Heroin and it’s use as a tool of war. How it feeds the gold mines that surround the serene Indawgyi lake and fuels violent armed conflicts across the country.
In the mountains of Kawthoolei he meets the Karen people who have been fighting ‘the longest standing civil war’ in history against their Burmese oppressors. Where Indigenous led initiatives are fighting to preserve ancient ways of life still rooted in the worship of the natural world.
“In an increasingly homogenised world, Myanmar revealed a totally unique cultural and ethnic landscape that I wanted to explore. A belief system so totally different to my own, born out of devout Buddhism and dictatorship, which to my western eyes felt totally surreal.
This is Burma. Beautiful and strange.”
See more of Ivan’s work Here.